Slamdance spotlights a creative 34-year-old woman with Down syndrome
‘Iron Family’ is part of the festival’s Unstoppable program
A couple of years ago, documentarian Patrick Longstreth and his wife, co-producer, second camera operator and sound designer Anne, ventured up to the town of Iron River, Michigan, to film a short documentary about Jazmine Faries.
Longstreth wanted to capture the 34-year-old woman who has Down syndrome as she prepared to present her annual community play, “Double Life.” Instead, he and Anne created lifelong friendships and the idea to turn the short film into a feature called “Iron Family,” which will premiere at the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival.
“We didn’t have the gear to do a feature, but after we met Jazmine, we realized that we’d caught a big fish, so to speak, an amazing and beautiful character,” Longstreth said. “So we thought we should just keep filming.”
Filming, which included interviews with the Faries family, including Jazmine’s older brother Chad, wrapped in one week.
“We learned about the history of the town, and the beauty of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,” Longstreth said. “At the end of seven days, my wife and I felt we had a good core for a feature film, but we knew we had to continue to learn more about Jazmine and Chad’s relationship and catch up with more family members.”
So the Longstreths returned to Iron River several times.
“We took a drone photographer and captured more of the scenery for establishing shots, which I thought tied the cinematography to the story,” Longstreth said. “We ended up with a 90-minute cut of a slice of life of this family, whose members are very unique.”
Chad Faries, who lives in Savannah, Georgia, was the one who got the ball rolling when he introduced Longstreth, who hails from Savannah, to his family.
“I knew Chad from around town, where we were into the same music and art and creative community,” Longstreth said. “We were kind of acquaintances and he knew I was a documentary filmmaker who made some short films.”
Chad Faries asked Longstreth if he would be interested in filming “Double Life,” Jazmine’s play that features an ongoing storyline that she has been writing, directling and presenting in Iron River for the past five years.
“I said, it sounds like fun,” Longstreth said.
While Chad Faries had no idea what kind of film the Longstreths would make, he did know there were “ample opportunities for some magic” to happen.
“I just set up all of these interviews, where I knew there would be potential for something to happen that we could incorporate into a story,” Chad Faries said. “It’s not surprising that Pat would end up making a documentary, because my family is pretty colorful and they are also very open to being themselves. I knew they would respond well to having a camera in their faces, because I had broken them in a bit. I had written a memoir that was pretty explicit and frank.”
Interviews included Chad Faries’ mother Kate, his aunts, his father figure Greg and his recovery counselor.
“I had the idea to possibly have an interview with my own counselor, because she was around when Jazmine was born,” he said. “That ended up being a really powerful interview where there were some tears.”
When Jazmine heard her brother had talked with the Longstreths about filming a documentary about her, she knew what she wanted it to be like.
“I had this vision, and I had a dream that I wanted to make this something that was really good and tug at people’s heartstrings,” she said. “I told Chad about this, and I wanted to make the film real for everyone to see. Chad told me about Patrick, and when I saw him, I wanted to do this film.”
Longstreth remembers the first time he met Jazmine.
“Jazmine was sitting there in the living room, and Anne and I came in with our cameras,” he said. “Usually I don’t show up with the filming equipment right away, because I like to sit down and get to know people. But Jazmine, in the first five minutes, was like. ‘OK, are you guys going to start filming? I’ve got stuff to tell you.’ She let us know all of her ideas and plans. And I was hooked right from the start.”
The film showcases Jazmine’s love for Barbie dolls, soap operas and actors Matthew McConaughey and Mark Wahlberg.
“Growing up I got into a lot of pop culture references and cliches from things I love, and I felt like I was in a big movie all my life,” she said. “When I got older, I realized it wasn’t just part of my life. It was part of who I was.”
Jazmine would make up stories about marrying celebrities and becoming a fashion designer, which she included in the “Double Life” storyline, Chad Faries said.
“It made sense for (her) to take all of that and turn it into something creative,” he said.
Jazmine cites her aunt and mother as her creative influences.
“My aunt is an artist and I get my ideas from my mother and put my spin on them,” she said. “I thought this film would be a good opportunity to be more creative. Now I’m writing more scripts by myself and finding outfits left and right, and it’s going really well.”
Writing stories is like therapy for Jazmine.
“People would tease me, and it hurt my heart,” she said. “So I decided I would not let anybody make me feel bad about my celebrities. So putting those things down on paper was an outlet.”
Making the documentary has brought the Faries siblings closer.
“One of the things that became a framing device in the film was something Jazmine was going through with some feelings she was having about somebody,” Chad Faries said. “Some of those things were very personal, and I got to learn a lot about her in those situations.”
He is grateful for the chance to produce and participate in the documentary with his little sister.
“There is a 15-year age difference between Jazmine and me, and when she was born I was in a transitional stage of finishing up my high school addiction days, getting myself together, going off to college and living abroad for many years,” Chad Faries said. “When I went into my own career, I was intrigued by her view of the world. I realized how special Jazmine was. I wanted to foster that a little more, and the way I could do that was through creativity.”
Jazmine is also happy with the film.
“It was a little personal, and very emotional at the same time,” she said. “Looking back at this film there are some aspects that I really love. I am so lucky to have people in my life, and some of them are not with us anymore. The documentary is about family and it is what it is. And I’m so glad Pat did it in the beautiful way he did it.”
“Iron Family” is part of the Unstoppable program screenings at the Slamdance Film Festival that will run Jan. 27-Feb. 6 at Slamdance.com.
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