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Peoria native sets out to create debut feature film on 16mm celluloid film

William Jacobs
Wes Brooks
Writer-director William Jacobs and the 16 mm camera that will be used during production of his new film, "Poet in a Modern World."

Cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Atlanta are hubs for aspiring filmmakers, but one Peoria native decided the River City was the best place to establish his production company, Mourning Dove Films.

“I created Mourning Dove Films because I wanted to see an alternative in the film industry," said founder William Jacobs. "I find the current state of the film industry very repugnant, and I repudiate the Hollywood infrastructure. The stories I would like to tell are counter cultural to say the least. They deal with the journey of the soul, searching for home, searching for hope and lasting joy…and so Mourning Dove Films is a production company that advocates for a more beautiful cinema.”

William JAcobs
Jody Holtz
William Jacobs, founder of Mourning Dove Films, holding a Bell and Howell Filmo DR camera

Jacobs is a Peoria native, an arts alumnus of Illinois Central College and a graduate of The Second City’s Improv Program in Chicago. Despite experience in the Windy City, he was drawn back to his Peoria roots to begin production of his debut feature film, "Poet in a Modern World."

“My heart is here, and Peoria does have a history of being a center for entertainment and the arts,” said Jacobs.

Vaudeville, a theatrical genre consisting of usually light entertainment and a variety of acts, was king in Peoria in the late 19th century. The phrase, "Will it play in Peoria?" was echoed across the U.S, meaning if something was successful in Peoria it was bound to be successful in other regions and markets.

“It’s great to have that background in my awareness, and I'd like to revive that phrase ‘will play in Peoria,’” said Jacobs.

The filmmaker plans to do that by returning to the traditions of filmmaking, a theme that also resonates in the stories he’s trying to tell. Thus, "Poet in a Modern World" will be filmed entirely on 16mm celluloid film.

Beck Potucek
Writer-director William Jacobs being pushed by dolly grip Adam Mervin

“For amateur film productions, or for television back in the mid-century, the 16 millimeter film format was a cheaper alternative to use, and there is a resurgence to this medium today. A lot of filmmakers are turning back to celluloid film making because of the experience of shooting on the film itself. Unlike digital, with film you're working with something truly physical, and it's subject to a lot of damage,” explained Jacobs.

That damage could result from things like exposure to light, moisture, and any sort of grazing of the film strip.

Beck Potucek
The cast and crew of A Moment Is Enough filming a scene

With digital filmmaking, there are unlimited takes, and hours and hours can be put into the filming of just one 10-minute scene in order to get that perfect shot. Jacobs attributes this process as the reason why it's necessary to return back to celluloid filmmaking.

“There’s this excess…this decadence that has arisen because of digital filmmaking. And many people might wonder why did I transition myself, and it's mostly to do with the asceticism behind 16 millimeter filmmaking and not its aesthetics. By shooting on 16 millimeter film, there's a particular discipline that it demands…it helps everyone operate at their utmost because that delicacy that I mentioned earlier is in mind on the set, and everyone wants to give their best,” Jacobs said.

"Poet in a Modern World" will not be Jacobs’ first time shooting in this format. He already finished production of "A Moment is Enough," which is a short excerpt of the larger feature film being used as a proof of concept for the feature film to help garner resources, and which can be watched here.

'“Poet in a Modern World" is a story that follows two souls who are at friction with the society that's slowly crumbling morally, culturally," said Jacobs. "And so they find themselves at friction and searching for something beyond ephemera. They're looking for the things that endure and particularly beauty. And it's evident that today we live in an uglified age, and it's sometimes dejecting to face the world as it is with all the upheaval and politics and what have you. These two characters, one a young pupil and the other a grieving, middle aged art instructor, help each other find resolve to endure the climate that they find themselves in, and it's ultimately a story about family, home, tradition, and hope.”

Jacobs added he believes it's a story that can only be told in the Midwest because there’s a certain Midwestern spirit imbued within the text.

“I'd like to give the Midwest a proper voice,” he said.

William Jacobs
Actor Wes Brooks portrays Shane Peters, the young protagonist of A Moment Is Enough and Poet in a Modern World

Films can take a lot of money to produce. That’s why Jacobs has now officially launched the film’s "Poet in a Modern World" Indiegogo fundraising campaign that ends on Nov. 3. Including the Indiegogo fees, Jacobs is hoping to raise $28,000 to produce his film.

"Financing a film is the most difficult part of filmmaking. It takes quite a long time to gather all the resources if you want to make a film properly, or if you want to make a film with the older format I'm doing. I believe there will be people out there that will share interest in what we're doing and connect with the story and our mission,” said Jacobs.

Contributors to the film also will be eligible to receive various perks, such as an HD download of the film, signed film cans and boxes used during the production, original artwork, and more that is detailed here.

Giovanni Galindo
Actress Rachael Waldon rehearsing a scene with writer-director William Jacobs for A Moment Is Enough

Currently, Jacobs is sourcing resources and talent for "Poet in a Modern World" from the Greater Peoria area, including an all-white horse that Jacobs said plays a very significant role in the story.

As fundraising for the feature film moves forward, Jacobs has great ambitions for where he sees Mourning Dove Films in the future.

“I'm not interested in fame or fortune," he said. "I'm interested in faith and fellowship, and that's really what filmmaking ought to be founded on. Cinema is often conflated with Hollywood…but the two are separate. Cinema is the art. Hollywood is just an infrastructure. And it would be a grave mistake if we simply traded cinema in for Hollywood. I believe that cinema can be far more than what we currently know it to be…I'd like to discover what cinema is capable of.”

Those interested in contributing to the making of "Poet in a Modern World" can do so here. Mourning Dove Films also is on Facebook and Instagram. To find out more about the story surrounding Jacobs' film, watch the featurette.

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Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant program director and host of WCBU's newsmagazine All Things Peoria and WCBU's morning news podcast On Deck.