Best known for her humorous and insightful LGBT documentary Fish out of Water, director Ky Dickens, has recently completed a new project that, while not as comical, is just as original and thought provoking.
Her newest documentary Sole Survivor tells the story of the fourteen people all united by a shocking life experience – each of them being the sole survivor of a plane crash. As Dickens describes the film, Sole Survivor was “an attempt to bring all their stories to light to some degree with the heart of the story following a man who was a pilot as well as a sole survivor, and a passenger who was also a sole survivor.”
Of course, one of my first questions regarded Dickens’s inspiration to make this unique documentary. What she shared with me illustrated the developmental stage of her creative process. “ Choosing a topic, the metaphor I like to use often when it comes to picking a film, it’s sort of like falling in love,” Dickens explained. “Like if you go out looking for love, someone to meet, you never find the person you’re supposed to be with. It’s only when you stop looking, that something connects, something works…It was similar with this film.
“Right after of Fish out of Water I was looking for films, looking for films, looking for ideas, looking for something I could really sink my teeth into, and nothing was hitting that heartstring, and then I read an article one morning, about a sole survivor, a little boy…the boy lost everything, everyone on the plane died… I was just wondering if there was anyone in the world that could relate to him or vice versa and then started researching other sole survivors of plane crashes and found out there wasn’t really any kind of book or movie or collective source that dealt with this strange perplexing unique topic of one person surviving a thing hundreds of people didn’t….I was then sort of hooked.”
Dickens makes her documentaries with a remarkable sense of compassion and emotional generosity. Sole Survivor is no exception. Even when she was not the central character in this project, as she was in Fish Out of Water, she revealed an equal degree of empathy for the people involved with this story. She shared with me how their traumatic stories personally effected her through out the duration of filming.
“When I first started working with George, who’s the kind of main character of the film as well as a passenger, the first few times out him were emotionally difficult, and I’d have a lot of nightmares about plane crashes, and I’d come home from my trips with him and I think I’d bring a lot of the emotional weight with me. It was really bad…It’s happened overtime, but I had to emotionally plunge in with all of them and really feel it and wake up from nightmares like they did to get what they’ve been experiencing.”
Dickens went on to say “the biggest emotional struggle with the film has been dealing with the pilot’s story, Jim Polheinke.” Jim Polheinke was the sole surviving pilot on Comair Flight 191, which crashed in Lexington, Kentucky in August of 2008. While 47 passengers died on this flight, Polheinke, while seriously injured miraculously survived. The National Transportation Safety Board reported this crash was due to “pilot error,” adding weight to Polheinke’s already heavy survivor’s guilt. One of Dickens’ primary objectives with this film was to offer him some peace of mind, and to give him a platform to revisit his case.
Dickens also expressed her respect for those who took issue with her project. While committed to the cause, Dickens recognizes that many people, specifically the survivors’ and victims’ families, were not eager to revisit these events, and that this film may trigger memories of this extremely tragic experience. “The last thing you want to do as a filmmaker is invite someone to revisit the most painfully challenging thing in their life, but sometimes we have to do that to tell stories.”
“I always thought that Fish out of Water would be the controversial film that received hate mail and mean phones, and almost all the feedback I got was positive,” said Dickens. “With Sole Survivor, I feel it’s agitated more people that feel the need to be verbally expressive about their agitation… I think it’s going to be a mixed bag.”
While she wrote and directed the documentary, she humbly expressed her gratitude to the other women who made this film possible. “It’s impossible to do it without producers,” Dickens began. “I’ve been lucky to always have brilliant women on my team, lots of ladies, and lots of queer ladies. I try to build teams that are women run, women own, women centric. There’s not enough women in film, still to this day.”
Ky Dickens’s film takes a unique series of life stories and tells them in a way that audiences can relate. She explains her principle attraction to this story is that it “sparked my interest for things that are spiritually challenging, since it questions our purpose our origins our destination.”
May 29, 2012, you will find Ky Dickens and fellow members of the film making team at the “Height of Fashion” fundraiser. This event is to raise post production funds for Sole Survivor. For $50 dollars ($35 for students or artists), guests will enjoy refreshments provided by Farmhouse and beer provided by Magic Hat. There will also auctioning off of original art, jewelry, and clothing. Those of you hip to the fashion and art scenes, other guests include designer Maria Pinto and Sole Survivor’s producer Kristen Kaza. As Dickens puts it, it will not be just for celebrated female artists, it is “an event bringing together all different artists from all walks of life.”
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Casey is a creative writing student at DePaul university. She enjoys reading, writing, and taking long walks around the city of Chicago.