A Story-Telling Tradition

Former Metro Detroiter and filmmaker seeks funding for documentary.

Jason Zeldes

Jason Zeldes, 25, has been working exclusively in documentary filmmaking for the past four years, racking up credits on several feature films. The Metro Detroit native grew up in Farmington Hills; he attended services and became a bar mitzvah at Temple Israel. He graduated from North Farmington High School in 2005 and headed to the University of Southern California’s School of the Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles, where he studied documentary editing and directing.

“I come from a long line of Jewish storytellers. My great-grandma, Dinah, emigrated from Russia and regaled the family with Yiddish stories from the old country,” said Zeldes, whose parents, Jeff and Lisa Zeldes, live in Novi and own Levin’s Beauty Supply in West Bloomfield.

Since graduating, Zeldes has been steadily rising through LA’s documentary community as a film editor. He recently completed work on Morgan Neville’s upcoming music documentary titled Twenty Feet From Stardom, and is now working on his directorial debut, Romeo Is Bleeding, for which he has launched a KickStarter campaign to raise the initial $25,000 to get the film’s production under way.

His great-grandmother’s storytelling had a clear trickle-down effect on Zeldes. “It led my aunt Laura Raynor (an Ann Arbor native) to a career in storytelling, in which she focuses on family and Jewish themes,” Zeldes said. “My generation is comprised of writers, poets and filmmakers, and we wrestle largely with social issues in American society. My personal projects to this point have been focused on family and community.”

His current project, Romeo Is Bleeding, focuses on the development of a community and of open communication through a group of creative writing students who risk everything to inspire change in their impoverished community.

A still shot from the documentary film Romeo is Bleeding

“While these aren’t overtly Jewish themes, these are values that are deeply ingrained in me through my upbringing in a family of Jewish storytellers,” Zeldes said.

Romeo Is Bleeding documents the students of a Richmond, Calif., creative writing group called RAW Talent (Richmond Artists With Talent), who are no strangers to trauma. Their city is small, but the homicide rate is abnormally high, with teens killing each other over turf divisions between north and central Richmond. The students at RAW Talent have found their voices through spoken word poetry and are determined to change Richmond with their art.

The film will follow the students and staff of RAW Talent as they prepare their biggest show to date, Te’s Harmony, a modern re-telling of Romeo and Juliet set in Richmond. The Shakespearean masterpiece has been reworked into spoken word poetry and Richmond vernacular, creating an allegory for the conditions haunting Richmond and its young citizens.

“When I heard the story of Te’s Harmony, I was immediately compelled to drop everything and make a film. The more progress we’ve made, the more committed I’ve become to making sure I tell the story of RAW Talent with the care they deserve,” said Zeldes.

The KickStarter campaign (at press time) had reached $16,000 of its $25,000 goal, which must be met by Sunday, Nov. 18, in order to receive the funding.

Zeldes said the $25,000 will allow him to pay for cinematographers, producers and equipment to capture this story in the scope intended. The money also will go toward travel and lodging, as well as miscellaneous costs of production. It will also help to pay for the establishment of post-production, as he puts together a longer piece for continued investment from other sources.

Zeldes is passionately committed to seeing the project through. “This story is especially appealing to me because I get to collaborate with my cousin (and a fantastic poet in her own right), Molly Raynor, who founded the creative arts group that I’m documenting in the film,” Zeldes said. “Hopefully, through our efforts, the tradition of storytelling can continue to trickle down to the next generation.” 

To contribute to Zeldes’ KickStarter campaign, logon to www.kickstarter.com/projects/921886202/romeo-is-bleeding.


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