The One Boston Initiative


Funding Received: 2015
Boston, MA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
March 21, 2016

Grantee Update: ArtsEmerson's One Boston Initiative 

Presented by the Forever Ink Foundation in collaboration with ArtsEmerson, The Reel Life Experience blends the cocktail hour experience with the creative energy of live performance, art and film. After mingling and networking over appetizers and drinks, the audience moves to the theater for a film screening that ends in a Q&A with the content creators. The mission of The Reel Life Experience is to give audiences from all walks of life an opportunity to indulge in the creative gifts of the many cultures that surround us in the city of Boston.

The Reel Life Experience is part of ArtEmerson’s One Boston Project.

An Interview With Boston Filmmaker Jae Williams

Today’s technology often makes the cinematic experience an isolating one. When a film moves us, where do we put that energy? When we feel inspired, where do we go to have a conversation? And who is part of that conversation? Jae Williams, Emerson College Alum ’08, Digital Media Producer, local Filmmaker, and founder of The Reel Life Experience just might have the answer.

What is your relationship to Boston as an artist?

My love for the arts came later in life. Growing up, I wanted to be heard, but I was a product of old school parenting. In my experience growing up, we were raised to understand that children were meant to be seen and not heard. There was not time for questions or curiosity. I was into sports — I thought I was going to be a ball player.

When I was at Morehouse College, Atlanta’s arts industry was growing rapidly; there were film and music video sets everywhere. I began to realize that film was a vehicle for storytelling and that storytelling was what I wanted to do. 

I started out directing music videos for friends of mine, but I really wanted to be a filmmaker. My first film was called Forever Ink, which is a story about the choices people make on the journey toward finding themselves.

There are so many different types of people in Boston. There are so many stories to tell. Boston helps me to consider who am I among other cultures — And that inspires me to tell stories. In my work, I strive to empower others to tell their stories. I need to be around creative energy to be inspired. Other artists give me confidence to share my own light.

How does your art making intersect with Emerson College and ArtsEmerson?

Boston is a hub, a leader in so many fields — but I’m convinced that the arts is one of those fields. But people here in Boston see Emerson College and ArtsEmerson as leaders in the arts. When you walk down Washington Street in Downtown Crossing, you see ArtsEmerson’s Paramount marquee lit up. People look up with interest, but they may not know what’s happening inside. It is my job to bring those people in; to make coming into ArtsEmerson, and into theatres across the city, an opportunity, not a barrier.

What is Reel Life? What is the purpose of the Reel Life Experience?

Entertainment in today’s world is so accessible, that our experience watching films has become isolated. There is no opportunity to have a conversation. Reel Life prompts a conversation about the art form. Because theatre is live, when you move people, you can really feel that energy. In film, we also need to know if the film moved you. And we need to know why. A Reel Life Experience goes beyond the movie.

Film needs more frequent platforms for conversation. If a conversation does not happen about the art, then it hasn’t reached the community effectively. I hope to foster an environment where I can raise expectations for an audience; an environment wherein audiences can hold artists accountable for their work and by doing so, guide the artist toward what they, the audience, are interested in. I hope to foster a space where film is not a one-way street, where it is not just about consumption.

I want audiences to ask: How did this film make it to the big screen? Why is it important? Why is it important beyond the actor, the studio, financier, and so on? If we see problems with the ways issues are portrayed on film and in the media, but do nothing to voice our concern or participate, then we are part of the problem.

As a curator, how do you choose films for the Reel Life Experience?

I look for films in which I believe their intent, ones that leave me feeling like: where do I go from here? For example, in the film LIFE OF KING, Cuba Gooding’s character teaches young men and women of color the challenges of life through chess. For me, I wonder what Gooding’s character doing in the community now as the credits roll.

Another example: a recent Reel Life film centered on South Africa, so we brought one of the film’s actresses to Boston to talk about what it means to be African from her lens. Many people view Africa as a place that is poor and without, but it has so much vibrancy and creativity. Seeing the film and listening to this actress, I wondered: can a person’s perception of a place change from this experience?

As a curator, I want to shed light on those essential questions and shift perception. What question do I have at the end of the film? If I can simply answer that question, then it is not a film for the Reel Life Experience.

What is next for Reel Life?

In mid-March we screened the film Five Star, which centered on the life a gang leader and how his position in that gang affects him in adulthood. This film asks the question: are you a victim of your environment? Or are you going to do something about that environment? We also spoke about how music and media affect our communities, and talked about who is really responsible for the images of gang violence we so often see portrayed. Audiences also had the opportunity to engage in dialogue with major music video director, Taj Stansberry, Five Star producer Daryl Freimark, as well as actors John Diaz and James Grant.

What are the future aspirations of Reel Life? How does Reel Life open new doors to audiences?

The Reel Life Experience exposes audiences to new stories and cultural experiences. By coming to a Reel Life Experience screening at ArtsEmerson, audiences are welcomed into a space where theatre is also performed. We invite audiences to not only participate in Reel Life, but also to return to ArtsEmerson and experience something new they have not before.

Ultimately, my dream is to change the expectations of the cinema experience. I want to change how people consume film. If someone goes to the movies, just seeing the film is not enough — there is so much more.


Find out more about The Reel Life Experience here: