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Jenny Mackenzie

Filmmaker a Festival Favorite

Deanna Devey | Photo by Kevin Kiernan Jul 9, 2018

Jenny Mackenzie was still a film student when she got the inspiration for a documentary from an unexpected source — her daughter’s soccer team.

Undefeated two years in a row, the girls needed more competition so Mackenzie, their coach, suggested they play boys. The film “Kick Like a Girl” documents the girls’ journey playing in the boys’ division.

“The film is about life lessons learned on the playing field,” Mackenzie says. “It’s about gender equality, but it’s told from the view of 8- and 9-year-olds.”

Even though it was only Mackenzie’s second movie, the crowd-pleasing documentary won several festival awards, was acquired by HBO and ultimately launched Mackenzie’s film career.  

Since then, the Salt Lake City based filmmaker’s documentaries have appeared in festivals throughout the world, including the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. Her work often highlights social or public health issues to promote change.

“Documentaries allow us to observe another’s experience in an intimate way,” Mackenzie says. “The hope is we learn from their stories and are less judgmental, more empathetic or more inclusive.”

Artistic Roots

Although Mackenzie didn’t start out her career working as a filmmaker, she had artistic influences at a young age. She grew up in New York City with her actor dad and writer mom.  

“Storytelling has always been part of my world,” Mackenzie says. “I grew up around fabulously creative, flamboyant, artistic people, and I always was passionate about human rights.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. in social work, Mackenzie worked at organizations like the YWCA and Rape Recovery Center. But after 14 years, she went back to school to study film.

“So many documentaries focus on social and racial justice issues and creating change in communities, so it felt like a natural career transition and progression,” she says. 

Personal Connection and Social Impact

Mackenzie has created films on public health issues like heroin and opiate addiction, increased rates of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, and HIV/AIDS. Other documentaries to her credit include stories of people with disabilities, the coming out process for LGBTQ teenagers, and aging and the risks of retirement.

For Mackenzie, who says “our best stories are in our own backyard,” each film has a personal connection. For example, Mackenzie has several family members who faced addiction, which helped her with the documentary “Dying in Vein.”

With “Sugar Babies,” Mackenzie used her daughter’s story with Type 1 diabetes to illustrate the differences between Type 1 and Type 2 and highlight the lifestyle choices that can lead to the disease.

“If something resonates with you in a personal way, you’re going to have a unique point of view as you tell that story and a greater investment in it,” Mackenzie says.

Upon a film’s completion, Mackenzie pushes beyond traditional distribution and also provides education and outreach. She creates a curriculum that educators and community leaders can use to facilitate discussion and more in-depth learning.

Mackenzie is currently finishing a film about stage 4 breast cancer and how deaths from the disease have not declined despite increased awareness. Mackenzie is simultaneously launching a film about early-childhood literacy in America.

“Documentaries are very powerful,” Mackenzie says. “They give a voice to those who don’t have one or who need a stronger voice. They give us the opportunity to learn, grow and hopefully become better people.”

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