In Focus: Moby Longinotto on The Joneses


The Joneses is a portrait of Jheri, a 73-year-old transgender trailer park matriarch, who lives in bible belt Mississippi. Reconciled with her family after years of estrangement, and now living with two of her sons, Jheri embarks on a new path to reveal her true self to her grandchildren. Will their family bonds survive?

The Joneses is a 2014 SFFS Documentary Film Fund winner.

How did you first discover your subjects, and what made you decide to make a film about them?

Several years ago, a short film of mine, “Smalltown Boy” was invited to screen at a number of film festivals.  A close friend of Jheri’s from Mississippi, who’s also an author and academic in his own right, had seen the film in the UK, and reached out to me.  He suggested her story might be something worth filming.  I secured some funding from Britdocs for a short film and headed out to Mississippi.  As soon as I met the Joneses five years ago, I was captivated by Jheri and her family and knew I wanted to get their story on film.   Soon thereafter, I realized there was so much material there, and that I needed to create a feature length documentary to really get their story across on screen.

What do you see as the greatest challenges for documentary filmmakers today?

Trying to stay true to your vision in making as authentic a documentary as possible and finding the financing to do just that.  It takes real persistence, patience and conviction to the story to get through it all. 


What new opportunities are making the biggest difference to your filmmaking process?

I think there are two things that are making the biggest difference to filmmaking today and my own projects.  Although affordable HD cameras have been around for some time, now there are new cameras with filters and lenses which have become accessible for low budget filmmakers.  One of my favorites is the C300. While storytelling and content is essential to documentary filmmaking, now we can actually instill our cinematography and images with our own artistic style.   

Also, new platforms to raise funding have made the filmmaking process much easier than just a few years ago.  When the recession hit in ’08, suddenly it became a really difficult time for low budget filmmakers to get projects off the ground.  While crowd source sites such as Kickstarter have made many films possible in the past few years, including helping us continue production for The Joneses, new grants have started popping up as well – like the SFFS Documentary Fund. 


Describe what impact San Francisco Film Society support has had on your film.

SFFS has been the guiding light for our film.  Like lots of low budget filmmakers out there, right before we got the call that we received the grant, we had sort of reached that low point where it was like – "hey, how are we actually gonna finish this thing?" We had raised some money on Kickstarter, a bit of private funding, and received another grant, but we felt that there was still so much left to do.  Being selected for the grant was a real boost to our morale to keep going and know that our vision was being supported.  And even the day before the call, my producer’s apartment had flooded and her ceiling had caved in so it was real pandemonium.  

Now that we can breathe a sigh of relief, we’re making arrangements to make our final production trip to Mississippi while also finishing our edit.  Then, we’ll be able to get the film out into festivals and seen by audiences thanks to SFFS.