'I want to open people's hearts'

Kathy Roselli did not know she would become a filmmaker five years ago. It took the wish of a young girl to let her know she should.

At the time, Roselli was at the end of a career as a pediatric physical therapist in Mount Shasta, Calif. One of her patients was Isabelle Blackburn, who has Rett Syndrome, a rare disorder of the nervous system that leads to developmental reversals in language and hand gestures.

Isabelle cannot speak, at least not with words, and Roselli had been working with her for some time. One day the pair were watching a movie together, and Roselli happened to ask Isabelle if she wanted her to make a movie about her.

Roselli said Isabelle was able to communicate her excitement with her actions so convincingly that Roselli was inspired to make the film — even though she had no filmmaking experience and little knowledge of the industry except a lifelong love of movies.

"I was looking forward to retirement, and I didn't have a specific plan," said Roselli, 65, who 18 months ago moved to Ashland with her husband, Rand. "I'm thrilled because I get to reinvent myself in my retirement years."

It took her three years to finish her first film, a 30-minute documentary titled "Portrait of Isabelle." She entered it in the Focus Film Festival in October in Chico, Calif., and it won the Audience Award and the Spirit Award.

Roselli then embarked on "Breath: In Three Verses," which won the Audience Choice Award at January's OpenLens Festival in Eugene. It will be shown at next month's Ashland Independent Film Festival as part of the Locals Only portion.

Now, she's working on a film about Colestin Valley resident Mouna Wilson, a master voice teacher who at 77 is losing her hearing. This one is called "Being with Mouna."

But it all started with Isabelle, whom Roselli called her muse.

Soon after Isabelle told her that she wanted her to make the movie, Roselli enrolled at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed, Calif. She took television and studio production and video production from Ron Demele, an Ashland resident.

"She really excelled in it because she put her heart in it," he said.

Demele, who saw an early version of "Portrait of Isabelle," said Roselli has a good sensitivity, works well with her subjects and is tenacious in completing her projects.

Roselli said her first foray into film was sometimes filled with doubt. She learned that documentary filmmaking required going with the flow and trusting in the outcome. She said that's different than a fiction film, in which the director takes control and guides it to a specific destination.

"When you do a documentary, God's in charge," she said.

One moment gave her confidence. Isabelle's mother and sister had left the house, and Roselli stayed behind to watch the sleeping girl. Roselli decided to pull out her camera and film her as she slept. Isabelle woke, and with the camera on her, she said, "Mom, mom, mom."

Roselli said this was the first time Isabelle had spoken in a way that sounded like a specific word.

"When I captured that on film, wow, that was the reinforcement that said I needed to make this movie," Roselli said.

She followed Isabelle for three years, documenting the girl's journey in the school system and her family's attempts to give her the best life and education possible.

In her next attempt, "Breath: In Three Verses," she wanted to pay tribute to the life force of humans. She filmed 45 people using their breath for the 15-minute film, which is divided into three sections. The first section shows the sounds of breath. The second shows the different ways people use breath. The third deals with people's first and last breaths.

She hopes to finish "Being With Mouna" by October so she can enter it into the 2014 AIFF.

Claudia Ballard, the owner of Storyline Pictures in Ashland, is assisting with the editing of "Being With Mouna." She said Roselli has made great films and has the potential to produce "top-of-the-line" work.

"Her films are full of beauty and truth," Ballard said.

And Roselli's specific with what she wants to get done, while trusting in the outcome, Ballard said.

"She just has this positive attitude that things are going to fall into place," Ballard said, "and they do."

Roselli, mother of two grown children and grandmother of four, said she admires filmmakers who take on social issues, such as genetically modified organisms and health care, and might at some point move toward that genre.

For now, though, she said her goal as a filmmaker is to tell stories that make people feel something.

"I want to open people's hearts," she said.

Vince Tweddell is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at vince.tweddell@gmail.com.

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