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In 1995, Miranda July was a college dropout with directorial dreams living in Portland, Oregon. There, she was chasing passion, seeking inspiration, and hungry for a genuine creative community. Frustrated by the mainstream movies of the time, Miranda, ever the visionary and Riot Grrl, conceived of a plan to mobilize and unite women artists everywhere, even those who didn't acknowledge themselves as such at the time, by inviting them to participate in a quintessential 90s initiative: a chain letter. But this time, instead of notes on college-ruled scraps with scribbled-on day-to-day droll, women would be sharing VHS tapes of their original short films.

In her call to action, she wrote: "‘A Challenge and A Promise: Lady, u send me yr movie + $5.00 & I’ll send you the latest Big Moviola compilation (that’s 10 lady-made movies including yrs)." This initiative would become know as Big Miss Moviola, which later changed to Joanie 4 Jackie.

The chain letter spread quickly and spanned several series of compilations over 10 years, featuring the work of hundreds of women around the world. Now, fitting for a movement that made history, those films are part of the Getty archive, while some are also currently being showcased on the Criterion Channel.

On the release of Miranda's latest feature film Kajillionaire, we're taking a look back at the feminist film franchise that help kickstart her creativity, and reconnecting with a few of the incredibly talented filmmakers who accepted the challenge.



FTW: How has your experience with Joanie 4 Jackie influenced your creative projects and creative identity in general?

Miranda July: When I started J4J I had not yet made a movie — so in the simplest sense, watching and supporting and treasuring the work of other women filmmakers allowed me to begin conceiving of myself as a filmmaker. These handmade, personal movies made the medium seem easy and possible and relevant, whereas filmmaking in general (which was overwhelmingly male and mainstream) only seemed mysterious and impossible and pretty removed from my concerns as a young woman.

What was the biggest thing you learned from the experiment? Any pivotal moments or stories you can recall?

That you must build your audience, and that audience will be just as active as you — it’s a living, growing network that is part of the work itself. Artists sometimes think that an fans should just automatically flock to the work once it is made — but why should they? They are busy with their own thing. J4J was both an audience and the work itself.

Why did you create it in the first place?

I was surrounded by women in bands and women making fanzines — I did both those things but I had this secret theory that I was a director, so I felt I had to make a similarly accessible, feminist world for my medium. And I wanted to see movies made my other women. There was no YouTube.

What do you want filmmakers, especially those who feel impostor syndrome, to take away from the J4J project?

What can you actually do today? On the day I thought up J4J I was very depressed and paralyzed. The only thing I really had was the ability to make this paper pamphlet — but as soon as I started typing: “A Challenge and a Promise” my blood began pounding with excitement.

Do you have plans of updating J4J given the rise of new streaming platforms?

I probably won’t be the one to do it, but it’s definitely there for the doing. We made with the explicit hope that someone would pick up the idea and bring it forward.


J4J Short: “Ophelia’s Opera” (2001, The Chain of Love Letter)

Currently based in: New York, NY, USA

What are you up to now?

I am an award-winning author, transformational coach and speaker, and a global goddess retreat leader for the most incredible women on the planet. My work empowers us to stop hiding and playing small, and to step into our true power. To better empower my tribe, I also have a podcast called The Goddess Factory, a YouTube Channel and blog at I just signed an exciting new book deal with my dream team at Hay House Publishing. So my next book, oracle card deck and meditation album comes out with them in 2021. It is all about self-love, manifesting your desires, and the power of spiritual magic.

Abiola Abrams

How did participating in Joanie 4 Jackie influence your creative life?

Joanie 4 Jackie was and is an incredible project and undertaking. I am a huge fan of Miranda July and how she expresses herself as an artist. In African creative philosophy, you don't go alone, you bring your tribe with you. That has been ingrained in me by my family my whole life, and I appreciate that that has been the context and energy of this project. I am extremely proud to be a part of it and grateful for Miranda's ongoing support. I hope that we get to work together more directly in the future.

Other films I made afterward include Knives in My Throat, an experimental documentary about mental health challenges, and Stranded, which brought me to the Berlinale Film Festival in Germany.

If any, are there any stories you would still like to tell or see told? If so, what are they?

I would like to do more magical realism, including a film based on my debut novel Dare that was published by Simon and Schuster about 10 years ago. Dare is the story of a sociologist who goes undercover as a rapper. Also, I just decided that I will be making an experimental documentary about some of the themes I will be exploring in my upcoming book about goddesses.



J4J Short: The First Day of The Beginning of the End of the World” (2002,
Me and My Chain Lett)

Currently based: Davis, CA, USA

What are you up to now?

I'm a professor of Film at California State University, Sacramento. I'm raising teenagers during a pandemic and making short experimental films.

How did participating in Joanie 4 Jackie influence your creative life?

It was a slow time for my work and being part of screenings, so someone reaching out to me, made me feel more hopeful about continuing forward with my work. Especially Miranda July, who I admired a lot at the time as well as all the other people working with her.

Did you watch any other J4J films, and if so, do you have any favorites?

I'm a really big fan of Deborah Stratman's “Untied,” Eileen Maxson's “Your Weekend Forecast, with Nora Gamble,” and “The Waiting Room” by Penny Lane. It was also great to be in a program with Margie Schnibbe.

Did you build connections with any of the other J4J filmmakers?

Eileen Maxson was my student in Houston, so I have a connection with her, and Deborah Stratman I knew through CalArts. I'm not sure I made any new connections through J4J, but the whole experience of being part of something so cool has really stuck with me.

If any, are there any stories you would still like to tell or see told? If so, what are they?

I grew up with singer-songwriters in Texas who performed with and in the same clubs as some of the greats like Townes and Guy Clark. My Mom was one of them. I'd like to see a story told about the talented ones who got away. The sublot would be a Gulf Coast storm approaching.


J4J Short: “Transeltown” (1998, Joanie and Jackie 4Ever)

Currently based in: Berkeley, CA, USA

What are you up to now?

I’m in the finishing stages of a feature documentary I shot and directed called Dandy Uncle Peter and Me about the bond between me and my artistic mentor, queer uncle, and heartthrob since childhood.

I’m a Partner and Co-Creative Director (with my husband, Michael Furlong) at SLAP Agency, a video production company and marketing agency. We create content for a range of clients including AAA, Lending Club, Schwab, Kaiser Permanente, ARIAT, FaceBook, Merced Community College and the Paris Press.


Through my business, Storiasoul, I offer my services as a consultant on screenplays, as well as fiction and nonfiction projects, both written and filmed….I’ve also taught feature screenwriting and directing at San Francisco State University for several years.

My husband and our two daughters, Adriana (a junior at Parsons School of Design) and Nora (a senior at Berkeley High School), and I are having a good time hanging out in Berkeley, working and studying remotely, and playing with our cats Enzo and Agnes and our dog Rocket.

How did participating in Joanie 4 Jackie influence your creative life?

The mere fact that years ago I could look at the Joanie 4 Jackie VHS tape on my shelves and see my film “Transeltown” included on the jacket gave me a thrill and hope and determination when I felt like throwing in the towel on this crazy and frustrating career that is filmmaking.

Did you watch any other J4J films, and if so, do you have any favorites?

I’ve watched some of the other J4J films and I like all of them but I especially like Sativa Peterson’s “The Slow Escape” (funny and deeply discomfiting with a brilliantly written and delivered voice-over), Karen Yaskinsky’s “No Place Like Home #1 and #2” (weird, disturbing and sexy, just like I like ‘em), and Tammy Rae Carland’s “Dear Mom” (so uncomfortably accurate and funny and poignant). And Miranda’s Intro to J4F 4ever is hilarious.

If any, are there any stories you would still like to tell or see told? If so, what are they?

Yes, there are stories I’d like to tell: I’m working on a psycho-horror graphic novel and screenplay involving humans and animals; I’m also very interested in witchery, both historical and current; I’m collaborating with an artist in Italy around the prejudice and persecution faced by immigrants there and elsewhere.



J4J Short: “The Cleansing Machine” (1995, Velvet Chainletter, Miss Moviola)

Currently based in: Seaside, OR, USA

What are you up to now?

I am currently playing music, writing songs and screenplays, hoping to get something produced. My screenplays are centered around women and are “weird” —most of my ideas parallel my life. I [created] a pilot for a series I shot on an iPhone in Todos Santos, BCS Mexico, called Motel California, about a Baja motel room, and the different people that pass through the room on their way to find their dream (or broken dream) in paradise. It’s currently in post. COVID19 has elongated the process of completion.

How did participating in Joanie 4 Jackie influence your creative life?

After participating, I moved to Todos Santos and since there was no internet then, I lost touch with American underground culture. When I finally did come back in contact with Joanie 4 Jackie, I was proud that so much great work by women was shared over the years. There has always been a connection between underground feminist filmmaking and punk music produced by women. My creative life has always been about connecting the two.

Did you watch any other J4J films, and if so, do you have any favorites?

Vanessa Renwick’s “Toxic Shock” and “The Yodeling Lesson.” Full disclosure, I know her. She is a very creative, prolific filmmaker, who has done just that for the last 25-plus years.

If any, are there any stories you would still like to tell or see told?

There are thousands of stories to tell and I hope that women will continue to make films until the last hour that precedes the end of world…Not like cutesy, puppy and kitten stuff, but real stuff—pain, sorrow, joy, love, discovery. Back to the basics of light and shadow, with some content.


J4J Title: “The Slow Escape” (1999, The M.I.A. Chainletter)

Currently based in: Phoenix, AZ, USA

What are you up to now?

I’m currently finishing a memoir, and busy thinking of short personal film ideas. Lately, I’m very influenced by my work with the State of Arizona Research Library digitizing historical newspapers, and thinking of the ways newspapers are a lens for reflecting on the human experience.

How did participating in Joanie 4 Jackie influence your creative life?

When I heard of Joanie 4 Jackie I had recently finished making my personal documentary and first film, “The Slow Escape.” So, I sent my film to Miranda hoping to make a connection with other creative women. I considered myself a filmmaker, though I was largely self-taught.


I wrote the script and painstakingly recorded the narration, which informed the images I needed to shoot and collect. I began creating an image catalog, and used both a hi-8 video camera and a super-8 film camera.

I wanted the narration to feel incredibly intimate, like something you might whisper to a friend, under the covers, as you as you lay next to each other at a sleepover, and I felt like the J4J distribution system of sending tapes woman-to-woman continued this intimacy—telling a friend about something cool you discovered in the world.

I was very proud for the film to be included in Joanie 4 Jackie because I always wanted the film to have a life of its own, and for it to have the opportunity to be viewed by other girls and women around the country and beyond.

Did you watch any other J4J films, and if so, do you have any favorites?

Of course! My favorite thing about J4J wasn’t one particular film, but the experimental/heartfelt quality to the whole project. The sense of surprise—not knowing what you might get on any one tape—the expanded representation of female sexuality, gender, and creativity.



J4J Short: “La Llorona” (2003, The Chain of Love Letter)

Currently based in: Houston, TX, USA

What are you up to now?

I haven’t thought about how I’d describe what that is like in a while. Media artist, movie maker, curator y instigator is what has been on the business card for years.

I’ve found myself a Righteous Blend of Gathering Images, Sounds, Relics of La Cultura and the Modern Whirled. I married well, which to me means as I found the Daydream Believer to My Homecoming Queen and vice versa. This has left me open to Chase at the Silver Flames my heart’s desire. Come up with something weird, write a grant, get the money to do it (or not), rope weirdos into doing it, and doing the weird thing. Wash, rinse and repeat.

I find “work” here and there with local arts organizations. Houston Cinema Arts, Qfest Houston, The Glassell School of Art. Also I’m a mom now and that’s crazy. Every two years, I put on Senorita Cinema the Oldest all-Latina Film Festival since 2007.

Did you watch any other J4J films, and if so, do you have any favorites?

I remember one about a weather report that is stuck in my visual memory. As it should be. I should go take a trip down that rabbit hole.

If any, are there any stories you would still like to tell or see told? If so, what are they?

I got a million of ‘em babe! I’m fast at work on these beauties: I am a co-creator of a web series called “Bloody Maria” about Catholic School Girls by Day Demonic Chola Bitches From Hell By Night! And I’m also working on a theatrical film hybrid called Window Smasher, based on a true story about a misunderstood feminist performance artist set in 1940’s El Campo, Texas.


J4J Short: Untitled Video (2003, The Chain of Love Letter)

Currently based in: Seoul, South Korea

What are you up to now?

I have been using text, video, and performance to make work about language for quite a while now. My works have been shown at exhibitions, film festivals, and performance venues. I have had amazing, beautiful, and creative experiences and struggles in many artist residencies. I enjoy being an aunt to two beautiful children.

How did participating in Joanie 4 Jackie influence your creative life?

Joanie 4 Jackie was such a generous, loving gesture to reach out to independent filmmakers/video makers. The experience taught me that it was important to find your own audience and share your work with them. I am also proud to say that Joanie 4 Jackie was the first feminist art project that I participated in.


Did you watch any other J4J films, and if so, do you have any favorites?

One of the great things about the Joanie 4 Jackie website is that now I get to see some of other Chain Letter films. I was deeply moved by “A Wild Horse Rider” by Dulcie Clarkson. I also loved “The Birth of My Baby” by Christine Kennedy. Watching J4J films from the VHS era reminded me that what gears you have and how slick your films look have nothing to do with how good your films are.

If any, are there any stories you would still like to tell or see told? If so, what are they?

I think there should be more stories about grandmothers and aunts.

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