Jaki Covington was an on-the-go filmmaker working on a major picture about the shark fin trade before the pandemic brought her career to a screeching halt.
Adjusting to quarantine wasn’t something she said she leaned into with grace, but being stuck at home 24/7, the Belmont Shore mother said, changed the way she viewed her children and inspired her to document their experiences.
“I was able to see what they were going through,” Covington said. “We were in this delicate balance. They’re still innocent but yet you can see the way the world is creeping in. And the pandemic was just, in a way, a metaphor for that because it could be anything that happens in our lives and we can’t always protect them from that.”
Covington began filming her documentary, “Still Life” in December 2020, about seven months into the pandemic. Her son, Ranger, was 6 at the time; her daughter, Akina, was 2. Covington said it was important to her to take a back seat as far as screen-time and opted to film with her iPhone and a portable microphone so that her children could forget about the camera “and just have fun with their friends.”
Over the course of the next year, she filmed 100 days of videos, amassing hundreds of hours of their everyday life—the moments of boredom at home, beach playdates with their neighborhood friends, birthdays, meltdowns, curious ramblings, the frustrations of online school and the many difficult conversations that arose as her children tried to make sense of what was happening around them.
“My son, he was going through a lot during that time. This sort of innocence and this darkness that (they) were experiencing through COVID. And the idea of death and mortality really impacted him,” Covington said. “Getting to turn on the microphone and have these conversations with him about what he was going through were really powerful and I don’t think there’s much of that out there, it’s kind of insider information.”
Documentary buffs may see similarities in Covington’s film concept to the 1964 documentary series “Up” film series, which follows the lives of 14 English children every seven years from the age of 7 through adulthood. But what Covington believes she’s captured through her film delves deeper, offering viewers a rare snapshot of youthful innocence that’s “really hard to film and not disrupt their world.”
But as intimate a look as her film “Still Life” is promised to be, Covington said it will resonate with any viewer because everyone in the world was affected by the pandemic and life in quarantine in similar ways.
“I think it’s such a universal story,” she explained. “Even people that aren’t parents, I think we can all relate to just going through this moment collectively.”
Covington said she’s also proud to have the opportunity to create a film that highlights Belmont Shore, where the bulk of filming took place. She and her family decided moved to Long Beach in 2016 from Eagle Rock because they had fallen in love with the community from visiting a family friend in the area over the years.
“Belmont Shore is just this super magical place,” she said. “To be in a neighborhood where everyone knows each other and everyone knows your kids and everyone’s kind of invested in your success and the safety of your children. And I just felt that instantly.”
Covington said she has finished filming for her documentary, and it is now in post-production, meaning she’s working to edit the film together. Covington is fundraising $25,000 through Kickstarter to help cover the costs of editing for herself and her team, which consists of her husband, Randy Redroad, an award-winning filmmaker, and producer Karen Toronjo, whom Covington has worked with on projects when she lived in Boise, Idaho.
The Kickstarter funds will also help pay for a colorist, sound designer, sound mixer, composer and sound designer to bring the film to life. Covington hopes to have the film completed by October 2023 and submit it to various festivals.
Covington has so far raised over $19,000. But if her goal is not met by April 15, she said all the money invested will be returned to the people who donated.
While this will be Covington’s first personal project, the filmmaker began her career over 13 years ago. She’s worked on multiple projects both in documentary and feature film and was mentored by lauded producer Heather Rae, whose best-known works include the crime drama film “Frozen River” and acclaimed documentary “Trudell.”
In 2018, Covington was selected for the respected Sundance Documentary Edit Lab as well as the Karen Schmeer Diversity in the Edit Room Fellowship in 2019. Her most recent projects, aside from “Still Life,” include the soon-to-be-released film “Fin,” a documentary about the shark fin trade that was acquired by Discovery+.
To learn more about Covington and her project on her Kickstarter campaign page, click here.