“Starfish Throwers” (2014)

Directed/Created by Jesse Roesler

“Powerful, direct and heartrending, The Starfish Throwers explores how three of the world’s most fiercely compassionate individuals struggle to restore hope to the hopeless in unexpected and sometimes dangerous ways. Continents apart, a sixth grader, a top chef and retired school teacher fight what seems an unwinnable war until they discover their impact may reach further than their action.” –imdb

This documentary is about 3 amazing philanthropists:

Narayanan Krishnan– Akshaya Trust

Allan Law– Minneapolis Recreation Development

Katie Stagliano– Katie’s Krops

How did you know that you wanted to be a director?

Jesse Roesler: I was interested in high school. Then, I went to the University of Minnesota. Unfortunately, resources were scarce within the journalism department and in town I tried to get my hands on as many films as I could. I didn’t want to do TV necessarily but, more interested in character and content.  Filmmakers’ documentaries inspired me to create in Minneapolis and make short films. I’ve worked on several documentaries but some of my most notable films made are (2001) 23 minutes, (2010) Man and the Machine and my first feature (2014) “Starfish Throwers.”

JR: I had a real passion for the project “Starfish Throwers.”  This movement of helping humanity and philanthropy suggests a lesson from the poem “The Colossos”. It’s about the statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. More importantly, what they represent. Freedom from oppression and the act of kindness toward our fellow brother and sister. “Give me your tired, your hungry, your yearning masses to be free.” When I heard about what Allen Law was doing, I was immediately drawn to his acts of generosity. “Love One Another,” is his motto and what he lives by. He drives around his car and gives sandwiches to those in need. He also gives advice and support to those who seek it. I told him “I’d love to tell your story.” At first he was not interested, then, a year and a half went by. After he saw that I was genuinely interested in his cause and proved that he was inspiring others, he got on board. He started with sandwiches and then gradually grew support by gaining national sponsors. Allen believes that all the people have a common bond. Similar in many ways. And that “Food is love”. Khrishnan and Katie also became nationally recognized and internationally recognized by their accomplishments through giving. Khrishnan helps to clothe, groom, shelter, and feed the poor in his country and in the USA. “Akshaya is an Indian development foundation committed to helping the helpless, homeless, sick, elderly, mentally ill and destitute in Madurai, India by providing healthy food, care, and opportunity to rehabilitate in order to restore human dignity.” Katie, while in elementary school (9 years old at the time) founded “Katie’s Krops”. Now, she has helped create over 500 gardens in all 50 states. It started with one little school homework assignment. Katie says it is her mission “To end hunger”.

How long did it take to make the film?

JR: It took 3 1/2 years to make the film. All 3 philanthropists got media attention. Allen got attention locally handing out sandwhiches around town in the beginning, then word got out. CNN had covered these stories. Khrishnan’s exposure helped him overcome the obstacles of going against the caste system. Katie had gotten discovered through her gardens. When Katie won the Clinton award more recognition came in with grants and donations totaling up to $200, 000.

How was this project funded?

JR:Melody Gilbert was the producer. She was involved as my mentor and funding came as she applied for many different grants in Minnesota/ New York. The Jerome Foundation project gave money and we won the Minnesota State Arts award. We all were personally invested in this film. We looked at documentary work and creative agency funding. Finally, we added to the funding our Kickstarter campaign. We were lucky that we have the Film Transit New York and Montreal to help sponsor the project. We did this because were not able to find tradition broadcasting resources.

What type of recognition has “Starfish Throwers” received?

JR: Big recognition component. We are not doing a standard documentary. We don’t have the resources to do this. We have received good responses in Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and Israel.  People can sign-up and support the documentary and movement.  It’s an ever evolving theatrical world model. ICN and DOD. The independent world is constantly evolving. Theatre attendance for documentaries and grassroots online, grows if you get enough interest, the people will come.

How did you hear about the Midwest Independent film festival?

JR: Melody talked to the owner, Michael McNamara and he was excited about the project and very supportive.

Do you still keep in touch with philanthropists?

JR:Katie had her 16th birthday and we connected then. She travels a lot and has been connecting/meeting with people at the film festivals. Minneapolis premier, she got to meet Mr. Allen. He is now cancer free and still out at night handing out sandwiches.  Khrishnan is volunteering in the USA and his home is full of 450 people that he is helping. We continue to keep contact with these amazing people. The wonderful thing is the bond that we have formed. Through this project we have met so many people, toughed so many lives. You are spending time with them. The process of discovery is phenomenal. Every section of the film is different, but they all connect in a powerful way. They are all serving humanity. We often keep in touch with Katie and Allen.

This has turned out to be more than I thought it would be. I’ve met some incredible people. They have posed an unsolvable question. What would you give to fight a battle you could never win? When you’re young despite the odds? What motivates them? I searched for people with very different backgrounds that stood out among the rest. This grew into something bigger than all of us. Something that embodies humanity. Your impact doesn’t end with your own actions, like these three people. “Pay it Forward” and the “Ripple Effect”. It’s not planned. It’s magical and has exceeded our expectations and has bigger than what I could have ever imagined. One thing about documentaries is that they are far-reaching. We have been to over 25 film festivals including USA, Europe and Asia. “Starfish Throwers” is taking on it’s own life and constantly evolving before our eyes.

The story of the Starfish Thrower (based on the story, the Starfish story by Loren Eiseley) is an old tale, but is a great lesson:

“In a pool of sand and silt a starfish had thrust its arms up stiffly and was holding its body away from the stifling mud.”It’s still alive,” I ventured.

“Yes,” he said, and with a quick yet gentle movement he picked up the star and spun it over my head and far out into the sea. It sunk in a burst of spume, and the waters roared once more.

…”There are not many who come this far,” I said, groping in a sudden embarrassment for words. “Do you collect?”

“Only like this,” he said softly, gesturing amidst the wreckage of the shore. “And only for the living.” He stooped again, oblivious of my curiosity, and skipped another star neatly across the water. “The stars,” he said, “throw well. One can help them.”

…”I do not collect,” I said uncomfortably, the wind beating at my garments. “Neither the living nor the dead. I gave it up a long time ago. Death is the only successful collector.”

The Star Thrower, p. 172

Later, the narrator says:

…”On a point of land, I found the star thrower…I spoke once briefly. “I understand,” I said. “Call me another thrower.” Only then I allowed myself to think, He is not alone any longer. After us, there will be others…Perhaps far outward on the rim of space a genuine star was similarly seized and flung…For a moment, we cast on an infinite beach together beside an unknown hurler of suns… We had lost our way, I thought, but we had kept, some of us, the memory of the perfect circle of compassion from life to death and back to life again.” (The Star Thrower, p.181)

This story is very poignant. We are not alone in the world. All it takes is a connection and one person to make a difference. Because we are all connected in some way. When we help our brother or sister, we are helping all of humanity become a little bit better.

1.Global Health Competition Audience Award,2014 Cleveland International Film Festival

2. Human Spirit Award2014 Nashville Film Festival
3. Best Feature Documentary, MN-Made Program, 2014 Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival
4. Best Feature Documentary, Audience Award, 2014 Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival
5. Best Documentary2014 Myrtle Beach Film Festival
6. Best Overall Film2014 Myrtle Beach Film Festival
7. Big Cheese Award2014 Port Townsend Film Festival
8. Best Feature2014 Awareness Festival (Santa Monica, CA)
9. Most Uplifting Feature2014 Awareness Festival (Santa Monica, CA)
10. Best Feature Documentary, 2014 Washington West Film Festival
11. Best Documentary, 2014 Big Water Film Festival
12. Spirit of Activism Award, 2014 Wild & Scenic Film Festival

13.Starfish Throwers was also featured in Hot Docs.

For more information go to http://www.thestarfishthrowers.com/

article written by Okema “Seven” Gunn

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