For SMART, award-winning filmmaker and Ohio State alum Justin Zimmerman spent years following Los Angeles' unique Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team, to chronicle its intense, hands-on work to save the lives of small animals in dangerous situations around the city. In anticipation of Justin's visit to the Wex on February 1 to introduce the documentary and do a Q&A, we asked him to share a little about the experience of filming SMART. Read on for Justin's response, including his thoughts on how the production reminds him of his time studying film at OSU.
"I rolled with SMART, the Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team. It’s the best word for it. For over three years, I flew in and out of L.A. I filmed. I covered. I embedded.
"LA City is its own animal. The word choice is not an accident. L.A. breathes. It is utterly, spectacularly, wonderfully unique. LA is alive.
"And where SMART went in LA, I went. Suburbs, projects, industrial buildings. Rooftops, basements, cliffs. Rescue after rescue, interview after interview, I was there.
"Have you ever pulled a terrified dog from a dilapidated cellar? Snagged a cat up 40 feet in a swaying palm tree? Grabbed a bird who kept smashing into a mall window over and over again only to watch it fly into the setting sun, free? Me neither. But I was there for those rescues, and so many more, an arm’s length away.
"These moments are amongst the best of my life.
"It’s hard to pick a favorite. When you make a film—especially a documentary—your memories fade in the face of the footage. You spend so much time piecing together the film itself that you forget you were the one directing and sometimes even shooting a moment. The journey with Kim and Tory and John and Doug and the rest of the team gets washed away by the fact that a film now exists.
"In this, it’s not so different from my time at Ohio State. Yes, I spent four of the most seminal years of my life with Professors Green, King, Beja, Mizejewski, Eldridge and more. Yes, I learned more in that time than I’d ever learned before… or perhaps since. And yes, this time has informed every project I’ve ever made.
"But it’s all mixed together, without much of a vantage point. It’s just the work. The work continues.
"Almost 20 years after I graduated from Ohio State, I’m coming back to the Wexner Center again. It’s my third film screening at the Wex—the first in over a decade—and I’m so delighted David Filipi is still there, keeping the light on.
"And I’m bringing the feature-length documentary SMART with me."
(Photo: Justin Zimmerman with members of LA's Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team, courtesy of the filmmaker)