Amicus Award: Regina K. Scully, Supporting Filmmakers Who Dare to Go Deeper
Driven by “fierce compassion—the kind where you will burst if you don’t do something about it,” this year’s IDA Amicus Award honoree, Regina K. Scully, has produced over 200 films focused on social justice issues, including Knock Down the House, The Invisible War, Athlete A and Fed Up. She also recently produced a short documentary, What Would Sophia Loren Do? that just premiered on Netflix. As the founder and CEO of Artemis Rising Foundation, when Scully chooses to take on a project, “It’s about who and how this film can help. How many people will be in less pain because of it? How much untreated trauma will be addressed through this? What are the constituencies that can benefit? Can this be seen in an educational light, in an educational way?”
Documentary spoke with Scully about how she would describe an Artemis Rising film, what her work looks like day-to-day, what inspired her in 2020, and what she hopes for in 2021.
DOCUMENTARY: When you’re considering a project, what themes or ideas are you drawn to? What makes something an Artemis Rising film?
REGINA K. SCULLY: At Artemis Rising Foundation, and now through my company, Artemis Rising Media, LLC, the first thing we look at is: When we produce this piece of storytelling, will this make a person’s life more whole than before they’ve seen it and heard it? We’re very interested in the holistic experience of the viewer and the listener. Will they be more enriched for it? Will a student, will teachers, will any of us feel that much more uplifted for having seen it, watched it, heard it?
I call them DNA changers. Most of the projects that we take on and help produce, somehow, someway, I really believe are changing us on an energetic level and on a cellular level. I think we are changed by the experience for the better. In choosing a DNA changer, it always focuses on important issues and social justice issues. We choose issues that are going to change our culture, our behavior, our legislation, our policy, our education system. Our work is an invitation to transform our media, our culture and our lives.
I always say, “Watch any one of our films and you will not be the same person you were before you had seen it.” That’s very important to me and to my whole team. Even What Would Sophia Loren Do?. I mean, it’s adorable—it’s Sophia Loren and my mom—but you see what my mom talks about in that film. My mom had a child who almost died of cancer, had a child survive a harmful childhood experience, and had a child die. This is a woman who has seen and done and lived through so much, and yet is so strong, so resilient, so full of love, and incredibly joyful; both women have their resilience, they’re strong, they’re loving, and they’re joyful. We originally made the movie for her grandkids, to remember their grandmother. That’s how it started, and then we realized, “You know what? This is a story and this is wisdom that needs to be shared. Love, and wisdom, and strength that needs to be shared.”
D: What impact do you hope your work will have?
RKS: I’m very passionate about the world of recovery, broadly defined. Everything from recovery from addiction, which I think our culture suffers horribly from, to recovery from untreated trauma. If you dig through most of our work, we are very involved with tracing and distilling things down to the nugget of untreated trauma that caused the issue. Take any problem, any issue: if you distill it down and take a compassionate look at both sides, it will always land at the feet of untreated trauma for one or both sides. Then it’s not a matter of, “Oh, that person did this to me.” It’s about, “What happened to that person? What happened to him? To her? To me? To you?” If people started from that question, they would approach each other, speak to each other, and act toward each other in very different ways that would lead to a kinder, more understanding, more compassionate and wiser culture. My films are always, at the root, trying to help heal undisclosed or untreated trauma to varying degrees—usually something in someone’s life that wasn’t addressed in the most productive, kindest, therapeutic way. The amazing thing is that we can go back and address these things, and it starts with listening to each other and with each of us telling our stories.
D: Have you found that your background in public relations and marketing has been an asset in this work?
RKS: Yes, definitely. For people to go through the hard work of telling their story, opening up and sharing with millions of viewers—at the very least, you want as many people to benefit as possible. We probably will go into more work in television because of it. We want as many people who need to to see it, so marketing, of course, matters. I’ll never minimize the benefits of wearing a smart marketing hat and PR hat. Does it start and begin there? No. Do we factor those two things in to enhance whatever we’re doing, to bring the issue and the therapeutic effect to light and help as many people as possible? Absolutely, yes.
D: What does a typical day look like for you at Artemis Rising?
RKS: We now get over 100 emails a day. Just in case anyone is sending me emails—if I don’t get back to you quickly, which I usually do, it’s because we are inundated. I like to do things in a personal way—to get back to people myself, to read things myself. I don’t have people reading my scripts. I don’t ever want to get that big that I can’t respond to people.
We won’t take on a project unless I’ve seen it. I have to know what the issue is, who the people are that are involved, and then I’m reading something about it or I’ve seen a film clip; we’re not just throwing darts at a dart board. We’ve been working at a rate that—I don’t even know how we’ve done it, quite frankly. But we’re choosing which ones need the most attention now: how can this change behavior now, our culture now, our public policy now, what will help schools the most now. These are the questions we ask each other when we’re trying to decide.
So when you ask me how I spend my day, it’s going through countless drafts of stories. I’m watching videos constantly—like, proverbial flashlight under the sheets, with my husband saying, “Are you ever going to go to sleep?” I watch them between 12 and 4 a.m.; that’s when I have to do it because I need full concentration. I put myself in a very quiet space: I do my own little mantra, my own little prayer, and I begin.
D: Considering the themes that you’re drawn to and the issues you are seeking to address, you must be watching a lot of films about trauma and recovery, which would be very emotionally and mentally taxing. How are you taking care of yourself?
RKS: That’s such an important question; not a lot of people ask it, but I try to ask that of all my filmmakers. It goes back to balance: I try to balance it with nature or reading a book. This is the type of work where you need to recharge, and I tell that to my people and to my filmmakers. There are times when you have to say, “I’m on a hiatus right now where I can’t take anything more on my plate,” and then you come back charged and ready to go.
I don’t have the perfect answer because it’s an ongoing process. There are days when I get up and I say, “I can’t do it.” I know myself. I know the instrument, and I know when I can’t take one more thing in. Then I do what I have to do to mitigate it: I’ll listen to music. I’ll write. And of course, my husband is my extraordinary, beloved partner. He understands the work I do and he’s an enormous support.
D: What were you inspired by in 2020? What are you hopeful for in 2021?
RKS: 2020 has been one of our hardest years. It will go down in the history books as one of the hardest, most challenging years. I also believe it will go down in the history books as an extraordinary year to renovate. We have times in our life where you throw a coat of paint on, it looks good, and you’re good to go. Not 2020. 2020 was the year to renovate down to the studs.
The hardest part, bar none, has been the lack of connection. Human beings are social beings. We’re pack animals. We are communal, and our connection and our humanity are being stripped away; it’s excruciatingly hard. I feel like all of us, individually and collectively, are under renovation down to the studs. Who can live in a home that’s being renovated down to the studs? Very few; it’s very hard. But I always have to add the positive, and when you do go down to the studs, you can redesign and rebuild anything you want. You can move the plumbing around, you can change the electrical, add a few stairs, add a few floors, tear down walls. It’s really an extraordinary opportunity. Daunting, challenging, excruciatingly hard, but extraordinarily divine in many ways.
What I’m most hopeful for, and what I’m looking forward to, is the results of all that hard work. I see the glimmers of “Wow, we can do so many things better.” In many ways, our country, our culture, and our planet needed a reset. Would I have chosen this way? Absolutely not. But it’s a reset nonetheless, and I am excited by the possibilities of that and by what I see can be better.
One of my favorite sayings is, “Go deeper.” We all are going to have to go deeper. That’s what I mean by renovating down to the studs. We’re all going to have to do it, and now, more than ever, we need our storytellers. They’re going to lead the way. Our foundation is about honoring, supporting, and illuminating the storytellers who dare to go deeper. In the going deeper, in trying to find the answers and trying to heal ourselves and each other, it’s so essential that we never lose sight of the joy in anything and everything. For all of the work we do, as deep as we go and as hard as it can be, we can never, ever lose sight of the joy.
Katie Bieze earned her bachelor's degree in Literature with certificates in Documentary Studies and Film/Video/Digital from Duke University. She earned her master's degree in Film and Video from American University. She currently resides in Washington, DC.