Interview With Filmmaker Justin Zimmerman, “SMART”

By Ruth on December 13, 2016 in Interview, movie, television

In April of this year (2016), I had the supreme joy of attending the Artemis Film Festival in Beverly Hills, California. It was my very first film festival, and I am still working to promote films and filmmakers I discovered while there. And Justin Zimmerman happens to be one of them. I had the exquisite delight of watching SMART, and this is one of those memorable documentaries that remains in your mind long after viewing it. I was ecstatic when Justin agreed to answer a few questions about his career and specifically this documentary in conjunction with its digital release.


RH: Tell us about your experience with filmmaking prior to SMART.

JZ: I’ve been Directing films for about fifteen years now. I have an MFA {Master of Fine Arts} in Film, and I am a nationally recognized writer, filmmaker and professor. My narrative and documentary work has appeared in film festivals across the globe and has been broadcast on national public television for which I won two international television awards. I have received multiple grants and fellowships, and my script and comic work have been optioned on several occasions.

How did you first become associated with/hear about SMART?  

It actually began with a project called The Titanic of Southampton. Kim Zimmerman (EP), Tory Maurer (DP and Editor), John W. Snyder (Score) and I created a project for the hundredth anniversary Titanic Memorial Cruise. It was discussed on the BBC and went on to play fests from London to the Portland International Film Fest. You can watch it here for free.

Long story short, we loved working together on TToS. And when a crow got stuck in Kim’s chimney in LA and she called me up and told me about this great group of animal rescuers she had just met, I was hooked. They saved the crow, I flew down from Oregon to meet them and, four years later, our feature length film has toured the country and is being released worldwide!

What inspired you to make a documentary about SMART

I love animals, but it was the people of SMART that made me want to tell the story… and in feature-length form, no less. A diverse, wonderful, driven, amazingly talented group. A family, with all the positive and negative that implies.

And the rescues! So visual, so exciting, so challenging! It was like they were just waiting for us to come and tell their story. It was tough, but I loved every second of it.

What were the unique challenges in filming this documentary? How long did it take to film?

We spent three years in the field with SMART, and then another year screening it across the country… and even in the Cayman Islands and England! So it was a long journey. But I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.

We created the film with an incredibly small crew, but that helped our footprint in the field. Like any journalist will tell you, embedding is key. That’s what we did. And with Kim and John in LA, Tory in Denver and me in Oregon, we had to plan our trips carefully. This actually worked well. We were able to come, interview, shoot tons of rescues, gather helmet-cam footage and then go back to our regular jobs. This gave us time to get to know everyone, build the film systematically and plan our trips around what we learned previously. It was painstaking, time-consuming (in regards to transferring all the footage and archival material) and sometimes emotionally draining. But we’re a committed bunch, and we love the team. So we did our job, and we did it well.

We told their story.

What’s the most unusual animal rescue the group has successfully accomplished?

I don’t even know where to begin! A mountain lion under a house? A deer in the back of Pee-Wee Herman’s backyard? Airlifting a horse by helicopter? (All of these moments are in the film, by the way.) But the crazy thing is that even the most seemingly simple or mundane rescue can have tremendous risk. And there’s a lot of that in the film as well!

At this point, how many awards has the film received? 

We’ve been nominated for twelve awards, we’ve won seven (BEST DOCUMENTARY – Artemis Film Festival, BEST FEATURE – Animal Film Festival, AUDIENCE AWARD – Animal Film Festival, BEST FEATURE DOCUMENTARY – Northern Virginia International Film Festival, BEST DOCUMENTARY – Intendence Film Festival, SPECIAL RECOGNITION – Global Cinema Film Festival of Boston, BEST PHOTOGRAPHY – Southampton International Film festival) and we’re up for five more. We’ve screened in more than thirty theaters throughout 2016. It’s an extraordinary testament to the talented team of filmmakers… and the talented team of rescuers, who we helped tell their own story in their own words.

What was your ultimate aim in making this documentary?

Always, first and foremost, to tell a great story that an audience has not seen before. And then, to create something that empowers. A film that acts as an agent of change. Then emboldens an audience to go and DO something, and gives them the tools to do just that. To me, SMART is about backing up the team and then backing up the millions of companion animals out there that need help. I want the film to turn every person that sees it into an animal rescuer, period.

As you have been showing this film all over, have there been any special moments audience members have shared with you as a result of the film?

Too many to recount, actually. From folks in the animal services field who saw their work represented in an unvarnished and authentic way that they’d never seen before, to middle-school and high school girls who want to be action-adventure animal rescuers because of the incredible female role-models in the film, it’s been exhilarating. People walk out laughing and crying and ready to get to work. I love our 2016 audiences so much.

Any plans to do a follow-up film eventually?

We would LOVE to continue our film work with SMART. They’re still out there, fighting the good fight. We’ll see how the film is received first and foremost, and go from there.



Will this film ever be available for everyone to see?

Yes! As of December 6th, has all the info. But Amazon, Vimeo and many, many more outlets are ready for you!


 As one was a part of a very special audience at the Artemis Film Festival earlier this year, I can categorically state that this film is everything Justin has purported it to be. It is moving, emotional, sweet, refreshing, and all about animals and the people who go above and beyond the call of duty due to their caring and devotion to the animal kingdom. The film is so firmly implanted in my mind that even months later, I can vividly recall many of the animal rescues and the special people whose stories drive the story towards its conclusion. Very soon, I will be posting a review of this film as well. But until that time, I do invite you to check out this film at the links below and consider buying/renting this film as you won’t be sorry. Young and old alike will be dazzled at the amazing shots and often poignant story that is told. I salute every member of the SMART team and those involved in the making of the film–most specifically Justin since he patiently answered my questions and awaited my posting of this interview.






About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher


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