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New Times / News

The following article was posted on August 14th, 2013, in the New Times - Volume 28, Issue 3 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [] - Volume 28, Issue 3

Modern zeal: New local documentary's premiere coincides with unsealing of a 100-year old Masonic time capsule


San Luis Obispo-based attorney and director-producer Jennifer Alton is wrapping up editing her documentary Passion & Purpose, which will premiere in October to roughly coincide with the unsealing of the SLO Masonic Lodge's 100-year-old time capsule to celebrate the lodge's centennial. SLO Masons past master Robert Bettencourt will be on hand to put the film in the capsule as one of many items to greet future generations a century from now.

It began with three questions: What brought you to your profession? What is your vision for that profession in 100 years? What would you write in a letter to the next “you”?

Though the brief inquiries may appear straightforward and painless, the introspection required to answer them meaningfully is anything but.

Jennifer Alton found this out while filming her documentary, Passion & Purpose, which presents these three central questions to members of the San Luis Obispo County community, including county and city officials, community leaders, local artisans, businesspeople.

The result is a glimpse into the modern human condition, through the eyes and minds of a diverse swath of your neighbors, friends, and contemporaries. But Alton's vision goes far beyond the today, stretching well into the future when our voices will have long been silenced by the consequences of time—100 years into the future, to be precise.

Alton, a SLO-based attorney by trade, and a historian, humanitarian, writer, director, and producer by avocation, began with the concept of producing a film that would explore what drives us as people in today’s world. What she didn't know when she conceived the idea was that the timing for her project couldn't be better as its theme fits right into another project also 100 years in the making.

But more on that in a minute.

The documentary, currently in the final editing phase, is a joint effort between Alton and local videographer, photographer, and editor Molly Kiely, owner of Bright Age Productions. Kiely grew up in SLO, but has spent the last 13 years in the film industry in Los Angeles.

Passion features dozens of Alton’s interviews with well-known members of the community, including county Sheriff Ian Parkinson, prominent developer Rob Rossi, celebrity magician Rich Ferguson, Tribune journalist Bill Morem, Cal Poly Jazz Studies Director Paul Rinsler, attorney and Pismo Beach City Councilman Erik Howell, retired judge Doug Hilton, SLO Little Theatre managing director Kevin Harris, SLO Chamber of Commerce CEO Ermina Karim, and others.

“I think it’s powerful and important because these are present-day voices,” Alton told New Times. “Not people at the end of their careers looking back, but people living their lives right now, living the lives they want to.”

The project was born out of Alton’s conversations with friends and acquaintances about their chosen career paths, and why people do what they do. She gathered deep and reflective responses, the kind not easily summed up in a sound bite.

“I thought these conversations should be captured and preserved,” Alton said. “These are people that really convince you that they’re doing what they do in life because it sets them on fire.”

While the film is still in the editing process, Alton released a few snippets from her interviews with some of her subjects. Bailey Brown, the athletic director for Mission College Prep, for example, told Alton on film that her vision in 100 years time is that more women will break through to coaching athletics.

“My hope is that every female sport has an excellent female coach,” Bailey said. “I really believe that young women need that role model.”

When asked what advice he would give to the next “him” in 100 years, Pismo Councilman Howell would reply, “You are all on the same team and want what’s best for the city. Have lunch, get to know the other city council members, and be prepared to work hard.”

“I kind of knew all of these people, but to get the opportunity to sit down with them and ask them why they do what they do, it’s pretty amazing,” Alton added.

And many of the responses Alton received surprised her, including one from a source she didn’t expect: her husband. Ray Allen is also a well-known local defense attorney who’s passionate about social justice and who answered that 100-year question with the hopes that the legal system will evolve from one that’s adversarial to one where both sides—defense and prosecution—work as a cohesive unit to focus on rehabilitation.

Specifically, Alton said she was surprised to learn of Allen’s affinity for Clarence S. Darrow, the turn-of-the-century civil libertarian American lawyer and early leader of the American Civil Liberties Union, best known for defending John T. Scopes in the Scopes “Monkey” trial of 1925.

“I don’t think I ever really told her that before,” Allen later told New Times. “[Darrow] went from working for the Man to helping people in the coal mines. He worked for the underdog and worked for change—social change. That’s something I really admire.”

Asked what she hopes viewers will take away from the experience, the filmmaker said she has none.

“I don’t get to decide what they get out of it. I’m just presenting the voices of some people walking through today’s world with passion of some sort,” Alton said. “They get to get what they get.”

“This is the collective voice of what was important to us as we were living it,” she added.

In one of those cases of “it was meant to be,” Alton took her idea to Robert Bettencourt, past master of the SLO Masonic Lodge. Turns out the Masons were preparing for the rededication of the SLO Masonic Lodge for its 100-year anniversary. The cornerstone of the event: the unsealing of a time capsule, originally sealed in 1913, and embedded in a panel in the walls of the Lodge. Exactly what’s inside remains a mystery.

However, given the timeliness and historical value of Alton’s documentary, the Masons will deposit a copy of the film with other contemporary items so that when the capsule is reopened—in 2113—future generations can catch a glimpse of modern San Luis Obispo, and the people that make it the city it is.

“It does seem to be serendipity, or fate, or whatever you want to call it that Jennifer did this when she did,” Bettencourt told New Times.

According to Alton, the film will be entered into the 2014 SLO International film Festival.

A date for the Passion & Purpose premiere has yet to be set in stone, but Alton said she hopes to have it scheduled as close to the opening of the Masonic time capsule as possible, likely in early October. Check back in New Times’ “Fast facts” section for an update. The unveiling of the time capsule is set for 2 p.m. on Oct. 20 at the SLO Masonic Lodge, and is open to the public.

Interested in participating in the documentary? Alton is welcoming associate producers, sponsors, and marketers, who will be rewarded with credits in the film. For more information, contact her at 709-1248 or


News Editor Matt Fountain can be reached at