Text excerpted from January 13, 2015 article on SLICE Ann Arbor blog. Click here to view the original story.
Sophia Kruz Productions
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Sophia Kruz is founder and executive producer of Sophia Kruz Productions, an Ann Arbor-based documentary film production company. An EMMY® award-winning documentary filmmaker, Sophia’s work has been screened at film festivals, museums, libraries, community centers, and health-care facilities nationwide, and is broadcast regularly on PBS stations. Currently, Sophia serves as director of Creating4Change, an independent film showcasing the role of art in the global empowerment of women, now in production. She is also producing a Detroit Public Television documentary for national PBS broadcast on bipolar disorder called Ride the Tiger. Sophia served as producer, director, and editor for A Space for Music, A Seat for Everyone (PBS/WTVS, 2013), highlighting 100 years of UMS performances at Hill Auditorium, for which Sophia won an EMMY® award for Best Historical Documentary from the Michigan Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including: Best Documentary 2013, Lake Michigan Film Competition; and Best Documentary Feature 2013, Made in Michigan Film Festival, among others. Sophia is a producer at Detroit Public Television (WTVS), where she creates short documentaries and hour-long films for national PBS broadcast. When Sophia is not working, you can find her taking a dip in the Huron River, or seeing a show at The Ark. She resides in Ann Arbor.
Book: Lately I’ve loved sinking my teeth into non-fiction with an evolutionary biology/pop-sci bent, such as Quiet by Susan Cain, Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, and A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink.
Sanctuary: A long afternoon hike in the woods.
Film: Even though I’m a filmmaker, I don’t think of myself as a movie buff. I do consider Lord of the Rings: The Twin Towers to be a masterpiece.
Most treasured possession: My journals.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and am a proud graduate of Northside Elementary School.
What were some of the passions and pastimes of your earlier years?
I’ve been dancing for as far back as I can remember. When I was three years old, I started ballet at Sylvia’s Studio of Dance formerly on Liberty Street. In college, I transitioned to modern dance and performed with a company called Cadence until I graduated from the University of Michigan. I’ve also always loved to read, and usually had my nose buried in a book when I wasn’t in a leotard.
When did you first realize your fascination with film?
My dad was on the board of directors for the Ann Arbor Film Festival when I was a kid. So I grew up going to festival screening parties and hanging around people who had a passion for independent and experimental film. He had this old 16mm camera, and when I was in elementary school, we spent a weekend up north making a short stop-animation on the Sleeping Bear Dunes. That was the first time I got to work with real film, and I loved it. I actually rolled the credits over that animation in my first feature documentary Time Dances On, which is about my dad coming out as a gay man.
How did you get your start as an independent filmmaker?
Time Dances On was a deeply personal student project that went way beyond what I, or my parents, ever expected. It ended up screening at film festivals and winning awards across the country. I think this film was one of the reasons why my former colleagues at UMS took the risk to approve my second documentary about the 100-year history of UMS concerts at Hill Auditorium, called A Space for Music, A Seat for Everyone. Or maybe it was that summer internship in Los Angeles with “E! True Hollywood Story”…
Why does this form of artistic expression suit you?
Documentary film is a creative, analytical, and technical puzzle. I love that it takes my whole brain to make a film and tell a good story. That’s probably the main reason why I’m passionate about what I do, but there are other quirky reasons I’m still discovering. One is that I studied dance for most of my life and have realized recently that I tend to edit rhythmically – with or without a music bed. I often get lost in edit, and quite literally feel when and where the beat of an edit should be. I also prefer not to talk about myself, and like to ask a lot of questions when I’m getting to know someone or even catching up with an old friend. This natural instinct to interview has suited me well in what I do – although I do tend to hear a lot of secrets that I’m no good at keeping.
How would you describe your creative process?
Figuring out how to turn overwhelmingly large projects into small, digestible bites. And, then continuing to plod onward.
Which project has created the greatest learning curve?
I love documentary film, because each new project requires me to ‘go down the rabbit hole’ in terms of research. For Time Dances On, I dug into my own family history, as well as the history of LGBTQ rights in the U.S. and Michigan. In developing the Hill Auditorium documentary A Space for Music, A Seat for Everyone, I spent hundreds of hours digging through files of old photographs and program books at the U-M Bentley Historical Library. This past year, much of my time was spent interviewing scientists from research institutions across the country to learn more about the brain and bipolar disorder for an upcoming PBS documentary called Ride the Tiger.
That said, without a doubt, the most difficult project I have ever taken on is the one I’m currently directing on the role of music, dance, graffiti, and fashion in the global empowerment of women, which has the working title Creating4Change. I’ve had to fundraise for the project completely on my own – which carries a six-figure price tag. So I took a self-guided, crash course in grant writing and crowd-funding. I’ve also had to learn the ins and outs of international production in far-flung places such as Brazil and India. Little things that are simple in the U.S., like renting lights, for example, suddenly become an all-day affair involving 100+ degree heat, and back-alley cash bartering in a hybrid form of communication that involves a little Bengali and English, and lots of pointing and nodding.
Despite the challenges, Creating4Change has been the most rewarding project I’ve ever had the privilege to direct. I can’t wait to share a small piece of the world I’ve seen through its production with everyone who has supported and believed in the project so far.
Where have your travels taken you as you work on your latest project, Creating4Change?
This project has taken me, and my cinematographer Meena Singh, around the world. In 2014, we criss-crossed the globe, from New York Fashion Week to the favelas of Rio de Janiero. We spent three weeks in Brazil filming graffiti artists protesting domestic violence on the eve of the World Cup, and three weeks in India showcasing how dance is helping sex trafficking survivors reclaim their bodies through movement. To watch a sneak preview of what we’ve filmed so far please visit: http://igg.me/at/Creating4Change2015/x/3456726
Who in your life would you like to thank, and for what?
My parents and step dad. They’ve given me courage to dream big, and the love to know it’s ok to fail.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Pick a goal, and stick to it.
What three things can’t you live without?
New music, a good book, and long walks with friends.
What’s next for Sophia Kruz, the filmmaker?
To finish filming Creating4Change. We’re in the midst of a crowd-funding campaign to make the MCACA match, which will support production in 2015. The campaign runs until midnight on Jan 18, 2015. We’re thrilled to begin planning production in Senegal and Kenya in 2015, thanks to a matching grant from the Michigan Council on Arts & Cultural Affairs (MCACA). To follow our travels in 2015 and help us make the $16.5K match, please visit: www.creating4change.com. After that, it’s time to start planning our shoots in Senegal and Kenya.