Local filmmaker tackles hunger one small act at a time

  • Updated: November 23, 2013 - 4:28 PM

Local documentary filmmaker Jesse Roesler is as persistent as he is passionate.

When he heard about a retired Minneapolis schoolteacher distributing sandwiches to the homeless every night, he thought: This could be the seed of my first feature film.

Roesler helped run a 2006 festival called Filmanthropist Project, a series of three- to five-minute films about people doing something good in society. Dozens of people contributed shorts and the festival ran for three years at the Riverview Theater.

But Allan Law, the sandwich guy with “Love One Another” stenciled on his van, shook his head when Roesler first approached. He didn’t need attention and worried that a filmmaker tagging along would jeopardize the trust he’d built with his hungry clientele. Law had turned down other filmmakers’ similar pitches.

“It took me eight months until I ultimately convinced him that people seeing others doing extraordinary things would inspire,” Roesler said. “I convinced him that one person performing one small act could ripple and create real, meaningful change.”

Nearly four years later, Law is one of the three main characters in Roesler’s new film called “The Starfish Throwers.” The 90-minute documentary, which will hit screens at festivals early next year, takes its title from a folk take about a girl who finds hundreds of starfish washed up on a beach. As she tosses them back in the sea, someone tells her she can never save them all. But each one I throw back, she says, will at least help that starfish live.

Roesler’s “passion project” also features an acclaimed chef in India, Narayanan Krishnan, and a 13-year-old South Carolina girl named Katie Stagliano. Krishnan experienced his “defining moment” when he saw an old man eating human waste in India. He stopped his car and offered him fresh food, eventually quitting his job to makes hundreds of meals a day for the poor.

Katie was 9 when she grew a huge cabbage and gave it to her local food shelf. Her project morphed into a school garden and then a community farm and an award from former President Bill Clinton.

Roesler (pronounced Race-ler) braids the three stories together into a powerful pay-it-forward project. A $15,000 grant from the Jerome Foundation gave him the money to travel to India. And last week, he successfully used the online fundraising site kickstarter.com to generate another $20,000 from more than 250 contributors to cover finishing-touch costs for color correction, music and rights fees for archival footage.

A former journalism student at the University of Minnesota from Wausau, Wis., Roesler was turned off by the “If it bleeds, it leads” focus of TV journalism. He’s made several short films since his first, “Sorting Out Ed,” about a hoarder in Wykoff, Minn.

He makes his living at a so-called brand engagement firm call Bolster, using documentary videos and Web design to promote products such as Crispin cider and companies such as Ecolab.

“But ‘The Starfish Throwers’ is like my second full-time job and we hope to create positive change through documentary storytelling.”

You can check out the trailer at www.thestarfishthrowers.com.

CURT BROWN

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