“Lights! Camera! Action!”
Yeah, Atlanta. These days, it’s hardly an uncommon happening to hear those words within city limits. The list of films in production, as well as recent films that have been created in Atlanta, is growing at such an exponential rate that it’s hard to keep track of what’s being filmed where. From major box office draws like Catching Fire, Anchorman 2, 42, and Identity Thief, to various television series like, The Walking Dead, Vampire Diaries, and MTV’s, Teen Wolf, there is almost no telling who the average ATLien may run into. Case in point…Reese Witherspoon’s recent run-in with local law enforcement.
Yet with all the high profile activity taking place in and around the perimeter of Atlanta, and in consideration of all the notable names and promising production vans, the city of Atlanta—at least as it pertains to documentary filmmakers—has yet to create an effort of substance that resonates with the rest of the country.
Sure, there have been a few reality TV sensations. Richard Blais of Top Chef, T.I.’s Road to Redemption, and the series of unfortunate events that is The Real Housewives of Atlanta, but Atlanta has yet to nurture a creative endeavor like MTV’s World of Jenks. And with a city that seems to be firing on all cylinders, it’d be nice to have someone behind the reel.
World of Jenks is a popular documentary series currently in its second season on MTV. The show’s main star, director, producer, and all-around altruistic guy is Andrew Jenks, a twenty-something who first garnered attention back in 2006, when, at the tender age of 19, he spent the summer living in a senior residence facility in Florida because he wanted to find the answer to his following question, “How do they [senior citizens] feel now that they are facing the end of their lives?”
“I laughed at their jokes about sex, played baseball with canes instead of bats, and raced through the hallways in my friend’s wheelchair. By the fourth week, three of my closest friends were hospitalized and my best buddy, Bill, stopped talking to me. I coaxed my neighbor through a heart attack, saw the heartbreak of dementia, and witnessed the death of a friend.”
What stands out about Room 335—a film produced from 200+ hours of footage—is not the editing, or really any of the standard film verbiage that is commonly associated with critiqued conversations; it’s the film’s documentarian. Unlike the conundrum that can be Michael Moore, Jenks inserts himself into his film, and his television series, for the sake of understanding. At an extremely young age, he wanted to know what it’s like to be old. And generally, that appears to be the common thread in all of his productions. He just wants to know.
In response to Room 335, Mike Hale wrote in the New York Times, “Jenks takes his camera into a world that is usually invisible and shines a light on a population that many of us would just as soon forget.”
And that’s exactly what he does in World of Jenks too. Seemingly based around a concept that is similar in scope, World of Jenks follows Andrew Jenks as he attempts to understand the lives of others by living with individuals from different walks of life, for different periods of time. And at no point does the viewer get the impression that Jenks is trying to exploit the person he is following. In fact, it’s the complete opposite.
During the first season of World of Jenks, which premiered in the Fall of 2010, Jenks followed twelve different people over the course of 12 (30-minute) episodes. Each episode visualized the journey of a different person, and the variety of people he followed—in a word—was diverse. There was a rapper, an individual with Autism, a “houseless” person, MMA fighter, professional surfer, and the list goes on. Aside from the fact that all these individuals were comfortable enough with Jenks to really let him into their lives, it is equally astounding to note—especially when one takes the series into consideration as a whole—that a young filmmaker was aptly able to capture the voice of a generation.
So often, it’s easy to stumble upon any number of headlines about lazy and/or entitled Millennials, their lack of motivation, and so on and so forth. Take a few steps back, and one could easily make the same assertion about any number of topics because let’s face it, it’s way too easy to dwell on the negative.
What’s so amazing about World of Jenks is the amount of empathy that’s involved. Are their moments of conflict and misunderstanding? Spontaneous outbursts of immaturity and naïve navigations? Absolutely. But for every second of strife, there is an equalizing moment of success—or a second of sweetness, if you will.
The second season of World of Jenks puts a new twist on a familiar idea. This season, Jenks is following three people over the course of 10 hour-long episodes. And this time around, instead of living with one person for a week or two or three, Jenks is living on-and-off with three very different people over the course of an entire year: Kaylin, a fashion designer from San Francisco who relocates to New York City to pursue her dream fulltime while simultaneously battling the ramifications and repercussions of cancer; D-Real, an Oakland native who traded in a violent life on the streets in exchange for dance and a chance to promote peace in one of the most hostile cities in the U.S.; and Chad, a young man living with Autism who is striving to make his way as a responsible and independent young adult.
More than halfway through its second season, World of Jenks is still as compelling and inspiring as ever. The editing and production overall is crisper, and the music and/or soundtrack, which was of instrumental importance in creating mood and setting the tone of season one, is even more fine-tuned during this second go round.
Imagine if Atlanta had a voice like that? Sure, there’s Tyler Perry. There’s CNN. There’s TBS. There’s all this stuff, and there’s all these creatives nestled in these innovative neighborhoods throughout Atlanta, doing amazing work and paying it forward, yet there is no recognizable voice with a visual inclination for people to listen and lookup too. As it’s been said of Atlanta’s music scene in the past, there is no discernible voice. There isn’t an Atlanta sound or scene or whatever you want to call it. At least not when it comes to documentary filmmaking.
With such an influx of lights, cameras, and action, hopefully it’s only a matter of time before shows like The Real Housewives of Atlanta burn away to make room for a series like World of Jenks, and a filmmaker like Andrew Jenks, so that Atlanta may finally have an altruistic and socially active documentarian to call its own.
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