Doc NYC 2017 Women Directors: Meet Jessica Wolfson — “Hot Grease”

Hot Grease

Jessica Wolfson has created award-winning media content for Espn 9 for IX, MTV, Conde Nast, Nyu, Canon, and many nonprofit organizations. At IFCtv Original Programming, she developed and produced documentaries including “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” by Kirby Dick and “Wanderlust” by Bob Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman. Wolfson directed and produced the award winning “Radio Unnameable,” named “Top 10 Films of 2012” by the New York Daily News.

Hot Grease” will premiere at the 2017 Doc NYC film festival on November 12. The film is co-directed by Paul Lovelace and Sam Wainwright Douglas.

W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.

Jw: Set in Houston, Texas in the shadow of the nation’s oil industry, “Hot Grease” tells the surprising story of how the bio-diesel industry is turning an ostensibly worthless raw material — spent kitchen grease — into a green energy source capable of fueling all of the trains, ships, and trucks throughout the country — if it can overcome the powerful forces working against it.

Featuring innovators, entrepreneurs, grease collectors, and supporters like Senator Al Franken, “Hot Grease” follows the battle for bio-diesel's future and it’s very survival.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

Jw: The film was inspired by a 2015 New Yorker magazine article by John Colapinto also called “Hot Grease” about the underground world of used cooking oil and the theft that has become an increasing problem since the rise of biodiesel.

Prior to that bio-diesel was not on my radar. I was familiar with it like many people were — hippies filling their old Mercedes with french fry oil, and Willie Nelson and Neil Young running their tour buses on it. It sounded like a great idea but not something I realized could make a significant impact on our fuel stream and to helping control climate change.

W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?

Jw: We hope “Hot Grease” is able to educate and perhaps inspire those, who like us, had heard of biodiesel but didn’t know what it was or how much good it can do. Also it’s important to understand that the only way to diversify our nation’s fuel supply with renewable and alternative fuels is to have increased governmental support.

There is so much potential and opportunity for all forms of renewable energy to be incorporated into our fuel and energy sectors to help reduce carbon emissions and control the increasingly adverse effects of climate change. We are at a pivotal moment in history to take those steps to become innovators, change-makers, and to make this a priority for our industries and lawmakers.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

Jw: The biggest challenge in making “Hot Grease” was to try to explain the Renewable Fuel Standard (Rfs) in a concise and interesting way. The Rfs mandates the amount of bio-diesel that needs to be blended into our diesel fuel supply. It is a complicated law and boiling it down simply was a challenge.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

Jw: “Hot Grease” was funded by Discovery Channel for their Impact Discovery strand and will air November 16 on the network.

W&H: What does it mean for you to have your film play at Doc NYC?

Jw: Doc NYC is a great festival. I have produced several films that have played here over the years. As a New Yorker it is an honor and thrill to be able to premiere my work in my hometown and to share it with my friends and family.

W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?

Jw: The best advice I got was when I was just starting out in my career. It was to reach out to filmmakers whose work you admire and talk to them about their process. That seems like an intimidating prospect but what you’ll find is that people love to talk about themselves and when you are interested in them, they often will open up, and be very generous with their time.

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

Jw: My advice for female directors is to surround yourself with a strong support team and to find collaborators that you trust and are inspired by. I have had the great fortune to work with an amazing team on this project including my co-directors Paul Lovelace and Sam Wainwright Douglas, who happen to be my husband and one of my oldest friends.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

Jw: I don’t have one particular film that is my favorite but I’m a big fan of the work of Claire Denis, Sofia Coppola, and Agnès Varda. They each have clear voices and cinematic visions that I respect and admire.

W&H: There have been significant conversations over the last couple of years about increasing the amount of opportunities for women directors yet the numbers have not increased. Are you optimistic about the possibilities for change? Share any thoughts you might have on this topic.

Jw: I very much hope that the culture of the film industry will change and there will be more opportunities for women, not just as directors but as producers, cinematographers, editors, and in crew positions. But the only way this will happen is for people to make a conscious effort to hire these talented women in these positions and for younger women to be encouraged to pursue these careers.

We can’t wait around for policies to change — we have to change them ourselves from inside the industry.

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Doc NYC 2017 Women Directors: Meet Jessica Wolfson — “Hot Grease” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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