Transplant Tales: Jessica Vecchione

© Jessica Vecchione Selfie with Drone Camera

© Jessica Vecchione Selfie with Drone Camera

Jessica Vecchione is the founder of the Catskill Mountain Film Festival and is a documentarian, videographer and photographer.

How long have you lived in the Catskills?

I moved up here in 2001, three weeks before 9/11. It was such a shock. We had no cell service and I don’t think we had even gotten our dial-up yet. I had no idea that anything had happened until the afternoon when I heard some phone messages. It really did seem like everything changed after that. [House] prices went up. They were still very affordable but they were much lower before when I was looking in the period before moving, late August.

What made you move here?

I grew up in the suburbs in New Jersey and moved to the city in 1981 and, at the time, everybody where I grew up in New Jersey was going to go to New York City; that’s just what you did. In the city, I got into advertising and then in 1986 I had sort of a life change and I decided that I wanted to spend a weekend on a farm and I knew nothing about farming. I had a friend who was taking yuppies to farm for the weekend. So I said, get me a farm to stay on for a couple of weeks. So he got me a spot at this farm in Orange County that was so incredibly beautiful. They were bringing down Mesclun salad to Union Square and they were the first people to be doing that in 1986 and I stayed [on that farm] for the whole season. Then I lived on a cow farm for a year and a half. Then I went to Italy and farmed a piece of land that my family had. Then I went back to school in the city to get my degree in Spanish and Italian – and could not wait to come back. I was going to go to Sullivan County, because that’s where I lived before, but someone said, no no, go to Delaware County because it’s cheaper and it’s more beautiful. And when I first visited I knew this was where I wanted to be.

I know. I can’t believe I live here.

It really is spectacular. My boyfriend at the time, who had never been here before, totally trusted me and had never even been here before the closing. We later split, but when we split I needed to make a living. What happened was, he had been playing around with editing software and cameras and we were making these slide shows. My father was a photographer and always had a movie camera, which I always played around with, with him. I had never considered it as a career, but when my boyfriend started playing with it, so did I. It became more and more accessible and my family hated me because I would do family movies one after the other. So, I went back to school to finish my Spanish degree and I convinced them to let me make my first documentary, Fleischmanns. I had worked so much with migrant workers, when I saw the village, I thought I don’t understand why there’s this Mexican population here. It was supposed to be a 20-minute documentary about Fleischmanns and it turned into an hour-long movie. I decided that I wasn’t going to go to Albany to get my Masters in Spanish Literature. I was going to be a videographer.

What did you discover about Fleischmanns by doing your documentary?

Bienvenidos A Fleischmanns was very well received and won an award at a Hispanic Film Festival because it told the story that is apparently not being told in the media and that’s of a tertiary migration by Hispanics into rural towns that are dying, and they revitalize them. It was such an interesting story. Here they had immigrated to the US, to inner cities that were kind of dangerous, and they wanted a better life for their kids, so they bought them up to the Catskills.

Is there such a thing as a day off in country life? Everybody’s got so much going on here. You started a film festival and you’re making movies and documentaries. Everybody’s so busy, but seem to be so enjoying what he or she is doing.

When I first moved here, I thought I wasn’t going to have a social life. Forget about it. It’s crazy. I’ve never had this much of a social life.

Me neither.

It’s almost like everybody is connected in a way. We’re in a county that’s as big as Rhode Island and we’re flung all around, but we’re all very connected and we’re all trying to help each other out, it seems. That’s something you can’t really have in the city because there’s too much butting of heads and competition. There is competition here, but there’s also a lot of co-operating. There’s room for that. So it almost becomes too fun to not get involved.

That’s true.

I’m so upset because I’m doing a screening of a bullying movie that I made with a grant through The Greater Roxbury Learning Initiative with some kids. We got a grant from the O’Connor Foundation. We’re having a screening on April 20th and there’s going to be panel discussion, but I just saw the Delaware County event at Spillian on the same day and I can’t go.

That happens all the time. Every week there’s a whole handful of things that you have to prioritize.

There’s a real interesting group of people up here. I find that they’re not your run of the mill kind of person. Whenever I get together with people it seems like everyone is talking about ideas and what we can do. It’s pretty exciting and fun.

I’m asking this question of everybody lately: what is work?

If you’re not going to go a conventional way of life, I guess you do have to turn your work into an art project. You’re getting something fulfilling out of what you spend your time on all day and can feel good about it most of the time. Work is a necessary thing unfortunately, but it can also be an invigorating and interesting thing. Work for me is fun and exciting and I look forward to it every day.

You’re doing some great work

It’s been so fun. It really has. There are so many people that have allowed me to get to this point where I can make these movies: the MARK Project and the Watershed Agricultural Council. I’m producing something that they need, but it’s given me a chance to be creative. It’s a great collaboration.


1 thought on “Transplant Tales: Jessica Vecchione

  1. Rusty Mae Moore

    Jessica did a great favor for me and the Pine Hill Community Center several years ago by helping me with a quick and dirty edit of a videotape at a historical event at the Pine Hill Community Center. I see her everywhere, filming parts of the history of the Catskills. I hope I can see her soon and say hello.


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