I have been running Legacy Connections Films since 2005, using filmmaking as a tool to help families to reflect upon their collective history, who they are as individuals and as a family, and what their vision for their family is. I’ve made over 100 personal documentaries for my clients, ranging in length from shorts to features over my 12 years in business, tackling themes and issues related to family dynamics, addiction, mental health, and connection or lack thereof. I also independently produced and directed a 6-part local public television documentary series in 2009-2010 called “Belonging in Boulder: Unexpected Stories from Your Neighbors” for which I was awarded a Hugo Television Award in 2012. That show is the point of departure for this project.
I have a history, going back to junior high school, of doing social service work, mentoring, volunteering in underserved communities as a tutor, teaching theatre, artist in residence. I have lived in Chicago, NYC, and briefly in Los Angeles and Argentina. I received a BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. I also studied directing and then taught at the famed Second City Theatre in Chicago. A sense of humor is central to all the work that I put out into the world. With a background in theatre, as an actress, writer, and director, my films and prior television show reflect the very personal, narrative storytelling style of live theatre and life.
Arielle was included in The Independent Magazine's "10 to Watch in 2018" list for "Belonging in the USA."
JJ has been working as an editor for the past ten years. From New York, to Chicago, to Boulder Colorado and back, he's worked on a wide variety of films and videos, continually sharpening his natural ability to tell stories through film. After learning the craft from NYC editors Alan Oxman (Welcome to the Dollhouse), Geoffrey Richman (Murderball), and Kate Sanford (The Wire), he worked as an Associate Editor on the SXSW-awarded documentary 'Manhattan, Kansas', an Assistant Editor on two Comedy Central series and the Abel Ferrara documentary, 'Odyssey in Rome' as well as editing a short documentary directed by Edet Belzberg (Children Underground). Since relocating to Chicago he's edited a wide-range of content from shorts to feature-length documentaries to music videos, live events, and corporate work.
As a composer and musician, JJ has spent parts of the past 15 years playing as a multi-instrumentalist in nationally touring bands, on the road, in the studio, and appearing in the major venues around Chicago. His most recent collaboration was with the artist Crow Moses, recording in-studio with producer Pat Sansone of Wilco.
RANDI KALISH—Executive Producer
Raised on Long Island, NY and currently living in Colorado, Randi Kalish believes stories connect us at a base level, a human level. In 2009, after working as a broker and a stay at home mom, she embraced her love for learning and returned to graduate school in Chicago for her Education Specialist license in School Psychology and ventured into a new phase of her life. Through raising her own children and supporting the needs of children and their families every day, she is drawn to opportunities that facilitate the sharing of stories within safe arenas.
What Randi appreciates most about the Belonging Series is the belief that each of us has a story to own and to tell. As we allow ourselves to hear the stories of others with an open and compassionate heart, without judgment, we have the potential to do the same for ourselves. She feels that storytelling is our legacy, and there is no better way to belong than to be allowed the opportunity to own our own story with honor and respect for ourselves as well as others.
Meredith Zielke is a filmmaker and cinematographer. She works mainly in experimental documentary and large scale video installation. Her films have showed in numerous national and international festivals, conferences, galleries, educational institutions and community centers. Awards include: The SFFILM 2017 Documentary Film Fund, Graham Foundation Grant to Individuals, the Filmmaker Fund Grant, Gelman Travel Fellowship, Invited participant: Spotlight on Documentaries at IFP’s Independent Film Week Forum, and Featured filmmaker at the Chicago Architecture Biennial. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Film, Video, New Media and Animation department.
HEATHER LOPEZ--Social Media/Outreach/Educational Coordinator
Heather is a teacher and communicator at her core. Always a people-person, she taught English literature, creative writing, and composition at the high school level and then at the University of Pittsburgh. She has always had an affinity for stories and storytelling, but working in documentary filmmaking is a new avenue for her.
It was a chance meeting with Arielle that brought her to this work, and she couldn't be more excited to share these projects with a wide audience. She manages our social media and outreach efforts and also works as a freelance writer. She is an avid volunteer in her community and President of her local Kiwanis Club. She organizes a huge annual event in honor of local veterans. Heather enjoys traveling and making connections with people.
Lara is a pianist, songwriter and composer. She received her Masters in music composition from Northwestern & has composed for Redmoon Theater, Chicago Public Schools, Forte Chicago among others. She was nominated for a Jeff Award in 2009.
In addition to her work as a composer, Lara worked as a Musician-in-Residence at Rush Children’s Hospital through Snow City Arts Foundation from 2005 – 2011. In 2007, as part of her work with the children at Rush, her project Up, Up and Away! was featured on Chicago Public Radio.
Alexis is multi-media director working in theater, puppetry, dance, site-specific and immersive performance, and animation. Her works of multi-disciplinary theater have been produced internationally and across the U.S. She has earned support from The Jim Henson Foundation, HERE Arts Center, Dixon Place, Chashama Arts, the Automata Residency Program, the CalArts Center for New Performance, and the City of Santa Monica. Alexis Macnab is currently Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts & Dance at Sonoma State University.
HALONAH ABRAHAM PAISS--Assistant Editing Intern
A Boulder, CO native, Halonah is a junior studying documentary filmmaking and post production at Columbia College Chicago. She is an award winning filmmaker already and the lead video editor for Columbia College Chicago’s Student Communications Dept. She worked as a video editor for the Boulder International Film Festival for four years. She is very grateful and excited to work on the Belonging Series as an assistant editor, helping to bring voice to stories that may otherwise not be told.
CHRISTIAN JAMES--Festival & Screening Coordinator
A Trinidad & Tobago native, James graduated in 2014 with an MFA in Creative Producing from Columbia College Chicago. He interned at the 2014 Cannes Film Market with a foreign sales agency, and was a participant of the Rotterdam Lab for producers at the 2015 International Film Festival Rotterdam. In 2017, James in the role of lead producer, released his debut feature film Green Days by the River in theaters and festivals worldwide. James brings a multi-dimensional and multi-cultural perspective to the team of the riveting documentary-series "Belonging in the USA"
ISABELLA YOUMANS--Social Media Intern
Isabella is a filmmaking student at Columbia College Chicago. She is so excited to be interning for the Belonging Project because it is all about connecting people. In an age where so many people feel isolated and alone, she can't imagine a better job then trying to bring everyone back together again.