Jessica Pearson

North Devon filmmaker
Filming became Jess’ passion when it became her voice!

Jessica Pearson: Filmmaker

On Tuesday evening 24th of May 2021, supporters of Jessica Pearson and ADSM were offered intriguing and inspiring insights into the life of a young, local, passionate filmmaker.

Those of us who were privileged to hear Jess speak were spellbound; we did not come away unchanged. We were humbled by her honesty, encouraged by her extraordinary level of determination, and awed by her ability to overcome adversity.

When she was fifteen Jess discovered she couldn’t eat, then she developed a lisp; things only got worse: finally, she couldn’t even talk. Eventually, on her sixteenth birthday, she was diagnosed with the very rare Myasthenia Gravis – an autoimmune disease that is usually suffered by fifty-year-old men! The paralysis affected her neck upwards – and medication was intense.

But she didn’t give in. She carried on at school, not letting her friends know how ill she was – spitting words out, miming to make meaning. But all this effort couldn’t save her from having to give up her precious Drama A Level studies. Supported by a teacher who went above and beyond, Jess’s interest in Art then kicked in.

Her life divided in two: Art and Illness – the first dominated by abstraction and doing things no-one else had ever done before; the second involving not being able to move her face, swallow, laugh without aids – being fed by a tube. The relentless round of invasive treatments and hospital stays rolled on.

Yet once liberated from her hospital bed, she was out in the woods and fields, filming, making, creating. The shed her parents gave her for 18th birthday soon filled up with her works of art; the poetry she wrote in hospital on napkins, cardboard boxes, tissues.

She lived in her head with Shinmix, the spirit who distributed her ideas and thoughts in the world. Sometimes she imagined making an omelette and eating it; other times she had very dark thoughts. Until a family friend, a counsellor, asked her what she really wanted – and Jess realised she wanted to live. She stopped fighting. She filled herself with love and life: the drugs and treatment started to work to make her better. Well enough for her to take a Foundation Arts Degree – and pass with distinction.

Film and animation became key for Jess: communicating others’ stories. Her own story moved on too. Her independent, working life started, with support from PLUSS. They gave her filming opportunities in exchange for equipment. But Jess didn’t want to compromise her passion for film: by documenting local musicians she started her film business. It became Shimnix Sessions. And how beautiful that first film was: intriguing settings, fresh camera angles, a beautiful and imaginative blend of music and images.

Then a film-making trip to Bulgaria changed Jess’s life. The resultant film, Snomads, shows her joyous interaction with the people she filmed: they made the journey for her. We viewers lived Jess’s joy through her interaction with the people she filmed, their engagement with her, the trust they placed in her.

And journeying was what Jess now wanted to do! Discovering Shextreme, a film festival focusing on women adventurers, she decided to travel the UK to film women talking – in their own living rooms – about their amazing adventures. What a juxtaposition! A Seven Peak mountain climber speaking from her sofa about the way ironing transports her to a dream world; other adventures’ words ringing in our minds as they sat, or walked – and chatted – in their everyday lives, asking us, “How far from adventure are you?”; telling us of how reading of the Kon-tiki expedition, “wanderlust entered [her] soul”; explaining how she “never thought adventures were for the likes of me … ordinary women”. Each expressing in her own way the poetic rubric of adventure.

Thus Jess learned how to interview: “just breathe and keep your feet on the ground” she was told by one woman adventurer. That advice has stood her in good stead! The resultant piece inspired Jess; motivated her to take small steps to balance her ideas on. The film, The Space Outside, made audiences laugh, react – and won Best Film at Shextreme Film Festival in 2016.

Afterwards, aiming to define what adventure is, she was filming around Great Britain. However, in 2018, contracting a virus, Jess suffered a relapse. This time she gave in gracefully. She let go of impossibilities and let in the possibilities.

She began to focus on her beloved North Devon, The Maker Series project. It documents Northern Devon creatives through film, photography and interviews. We were treated to charming and unexpected, yet revelatory, film clips of honey, leather belts, pottery, sheepskin rugs, surf boards and art in the process of being made. The strains of Dave Smale’s haunting and original music blended with, and enhanced, all the extracts.

Building on the creative achievements of her mother, her father and herself – funded by Arts Council England – Jess has recently expanded The Maker Series to include networking and support for creatives, with a twice monthly podcast and a monthly masterclass: getting down to the nitty-gritty of how to grow a successful creative business. Describing herself as an advocate for Northern Devon Makers, she says: “the creative mind never switches off – it wants to do it all!”

Jess herself is surely a living embodiment of her own mantra – and how inspirational her life and work are. Thank you, Jess.