Born and raised in Minneapolis, filmmaker Jo Rochelle originally wanted to be an actress but changed her mind in college. “I had gotten to my senior year in the drama program, and I realized that I wanted to start writing and directing.”
She started co-writing and directing the web series “Dorm Therapy” while a student at New York University where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in drama/theater. “It was like a mockumentary—like “The Office,” but about an RA and her residents in a dorm.”
After moving to Los Angeles, where she’s now based, Rochelle created the web series “Black Student Union” for Issa Rae’s HOORAE Media and is a writer for the Freeform series “Good Trouble.”
About the famous city she now calls home, Rochelle stated, “I have to say the thing I like the most is you can typically rely on the weather being good. The toughest part about it would be sometimes you get just caught up in the hustle, just living in a big city and everyone has big dreams and big goals and you have to remember to take time for self-care.”
More recently, Rochelle wrote and directed her first feature film, “Jasmine Is A Star,” which is currently still on the film festival circuit.
Produced by E.G. Bailey and Sha Cage and set in Minneapolis, Rochelle describes it as “about a 16-year-old girl who has albinism, which is a lack of pigment in the hair, skin and eyes. And she is determined to become a professional model someday. And she’s starting now.”
Rochelle’s own childhood love of modeling, pageants, and the reality competition series “America’s Next Top Model” inspired the film. The main character’s albinism became part of the story after she discovered young YouTuber Iyana Leshae.
“She does hair tutorials and she talks about pursuing her career as a model. She was so much like this main character, and Iyana has albinism, so that started to become a part of the story.” Rochelle contacted Leshae and asked if she wanted to be part of the film, and the rest, as they say, is history.
A graduate of the prestigious Blake School, Rochelle is a child of Jamaican immigrants and credits them for much of her success. She explained, “From a young age, I appreciated and understood the sacrifices my parents made for me to be born in America and have more opportunities. It’s always been a drive of mine to keep working hard because I appreciate what they’ve done for me.”
Rochelle describes the main character as “a young, ambitious girl. She’s generally pretty optimistic and she cares a lot about her artistic career.” Another similarity is Jasmine is a self-starter.
“She takes things into her own hands whether or not someone else is giving her permission. That’s how I am as a filmmaker. I will find a way even though it seems impossible at the start.”
Visually sublime with a strong sense of place, “Jasmine Is A Star” was almost completely filmed on location. It includes scenes at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and references to Macalester College. “I wanted to make a story in Minnesota because that was my hometown. And this is about a young girl in her hometown, which isn’t necessarily a place where models always come from.
“It was very intentional and rooted in my experiences. I remember doing a tour at Macalester College, when I was trying to decide on which college to go to, and I remember having so much fun and making friends there. This was a love letter to Minneapolis.”
The film is also a lesson in finding community, something that can be difficult for a young girl with albinism.
Rochelle points to the Sculpture Garden scenes as the most challenging aspect of creating the movie. “It was freezing. It was like maybe 20 degrees that day. And we’re just like, all very cold. We had to get…these little heat packets that you hold in your hand.”
In general, she finds financing films to be the most difficult thing about being in the industry. “It is extremely expensive. It’s just very expensive to rent camera equipment, to hire and pay crew.”
As for what she’d like the viewer to take away from the film, Rochelle stated, “Never give up on your dream. And sometimes it’s okay to take it into your own hands and not wait for permission. You just have to do it yourself sometimes. Keep persevering. Keep running your own race.”
“Jasmine Is A Star” is currently on the film festival circuit. For more info, visit www.jasminestarmovie.com.