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The Importance of Being Earnest

Documentarian Lori Joyce exposes Idaho and beyond.

Lori Joyce in India during the filming of Tribe All.

Lori Joyce in India during the filming of Tribe All.

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When Lori Joyce decided to follow her heart into storytelling through film, she didn’t take the traditional route of film school, a swim with the sharks in Hollywood, a home in the California hills . . .

Instead, while reporting television entertainment news, she stayed late to act as an understudy in the bowels of editing bays, pondering how to reconcile her working life with something that sated her need to change people’s lives.

“What was going on in front of the camera was all so superficial and, in the end, unimportant,” she recalls.

It was also the ’80s and Joyce remembers that particular time as a moment of self-questioning and wondering what happened to the seemingly forgotten idealism of the ’60s, when she and others were so captured by the passion of the peace movement.

“It was something that happened to a lot of us,” she says. “We asked, ‘What are we doing?’”

Joyce’s answer was to make documentaries that aligned with her strong beliefs and values. Among them are The Journey of Sacagawea, which aired on public television and received an Emmy nomination. Although she now has a number of films under her belt, and a Peabody award, the film remains her favorite.

Joyce “felt a connection to Sacagawea throughout the making of the documentary. She was 16 years old with a newborn baby and 31 men. That is amazing to me.”

Joyce also feels a strong connection to Native American stories in general.

“Maybe it’s because I have a little bit of Cherokee,” she reasons. “But it was so interesting to be able to speak to the Hidatsa, the Shoshone and the Nez Perce.”

“I worked with Lori Joyce as director on The Journey of Sacagawea,” says Alan Austin, Idaho Public Television videographer. “She did an incredible job of telling that story. There was quite a bit of research involved. It was important to tell of the Lewis and Clark expedition from a different point of view. Lori told it from the girl’s point of view and it was very meaningful and in-depth.”

In her first film, The Truth About Papa, about Ernest Hemingway, is what sealed her connection to Sun Valley. After working in Texas and living in Boulder, Colorado, and Boise, she decided to make Hailey her home.

From documenting the historical journey of Sacagawea, one amazing woman, to the making of a documentary about present-day women who are making history, the filmmaking journey of Lori Joyce has been organic, with one film igniting the spark of the idea for the next, and always with her heart and soul leading the way. This brings her back to why she has chosen the Sun Valley area to live.

“I was going through some pictures and found one of me in front of Ernest Hemingway’s house in Sun Valley taken in the ’80s, when I was doing a documentary about him,” she recounts.

She remembers coming to Sun Valley for shoots and crying when she had to leave. While she can’t explain it, she just felt that there was something within her that she had to honor.

“Now, I feel like I’ve come full circle.”

 Since the move, which takes her around the state and the globe, she continues to make films about emotional and personal topics like domestic violence, mental illness and youth.

“Creatively, they (the stories) just got better,” she says of her growing repertoire of subjects. Joyce’s eye for how to tell a story and what makes people tick has always distinguished her path to success, about which she is humble.

She formed her non-profit company, Idanha Films, and began the work of her heart.

Her 1985 documentary, The Arms Race Within, about the nuclear train that was crossing the country and the people trying to stop it, put her on the path of making two more documentaries about the subject of non-violence: The Healing of Brian Wilson, which evolved from one man’s reaction to The Arms Race Within and his journey to more involvement in divining peace. In Remembrance of Martin is a tribute to the late peace-seeking Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She won the esteemed Peabody Award for her film Hearts and Minds: Teens and Mental Illness.

In the ’90s, her work would hit its most personal peak yet as she watched helplessly as her eldest daughter made a series of poor life choices that resulted in her becoming a victim of domestic violence.

It was a private hell and a personal epiphany. Joyce says she was stricken with the realization that she had gotten things backwards.

Previously, she had thought if there were peace in the world, then everything would be all right. In reality, it became evident to her, if there were to be peace in the world, peace needed to be taught in our personal lives and our relationships. From this was born Shattered Lives, which documented the ripple effects of domestic violence.

Shattered Lives not only challenged her emotionally, but financially; it was difficult to get funding.

She had to do everything on a shoestring to get it made, including recycling tapes and enjoining contractors to work on deferred billing.

“It was crazy,” she recalls. “I was doing whatever it took to get it done. Domestic violence is a subject that no one wants to talk about, so no one was going to give me money to make a film about that. One thing about me, though, is if I start a film, I’m going to finish it.”

Fundraising to make her vision come to life is Joyce’s least favorite aspect of her work, though she’s been trying to change her attitude.

“When the money doesn’t come when you need it, and you can’t shoot when you want to, you start to question your worthiness,” she says. >>>


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