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Chattanooga filmmaker Pablo Mazariegos thought he had all the professional gear he needed for a recent film shoot: video camera, lenses, filters, microphone. But on his way to film, he realized he had forgotten to bring a memory card, rendering the camera useless. Frustrated, but not deterred, he turned to a high-tech device he always has at hand.

"I just used my iPhone," he says.

That backup plan turned out OK. Mazariegos' image of a young musician in East Lake made the cut in a four-minute collaborative film in which footage was submitted by more than 250 filmmakers across the globe. Called the #ChooseHopeStory, the film is meant to inspire hope amid the life-altering changes wrought by the coronavirus.

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An image of Christian, a participant in the East Lake Expression Engine music mentoring program, is included in a short film, #ChooseHopeStory," produced by Oregon-based Muse Storytelling to offer hope and comfort during the coronavirus pandemic. Footage included in the four-minute film was compiled by more than 250 filmmakers from across the globe, including Chattanooga filmmaker Pablo Mazariegos. / Photo contributed by Pablo Mazariegos

"Sharing these stories from around the world, it's a reminder of who we choose to be in this moment, what we choose to do right now — and I think that is so, so important, for our families, for our friends, for our children," says producer Patrick Moreau, founder of Muse Storytelling. "To be able to look back and say, when the worst happened, we were our best. We came together as global citizens, we took action, we showed kindness, and we knew it mattered."

Based in Portland, Oregon, Muse Storytelling spearheaded the film project, based on an idea pitched by its lead story finder, Varina Shaughnessy, a former Chattanoogan.

Shaughnessy says she had been traveling for work for most of 2020 when a trip to Egypt made her realize that the coronavirus had become "most than just something in Wuhan [China]. Tel Aviv was dead. It was a ghost town. That's when reality started hitting."

Back in Portland, she started seeing social-media posts offering help to the elderly and others who feared leaving home to pick up groceries or other supplies. She was hearing talk of social distancing. She sensed tension, fear, apprehension. Yet, there were also positive reactions too, like the offers of aid and the sense of community that seemed to be forming.

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Pablo Mazariegos / Photo contributed by Pablo Mazariegos

She told Moreau there was a story to be told there. She suggested a quick turnaround involving maybe 20 filmmakers in their circle. Moreau was thinking bigger. "Let's bring in the whole community," she says he told her. So the initial email blast went out to "tens of thousands of people" in Muse's contacts list, Shaughnessy says. Some 600 people joined Muse's initial webinar vetting the idea, and about half filled out a survey announcing their intentions to participate. Ultimately, more than 250 followed through.

"After the first webinar with 600 people, my anxiety was out the window," Shaughnessy confides, believing at first that "this was not the film I wanted." The sheer numbers, she says, were "extremely overwhelming. But Patrick thinks bigger and can see the end goal. He doesn't get overwhelmed by the middle."

Muse Storytelling frames its films with five keywords that drive the theme. For #ChooseHopeStory, the keywords were: Beauty, Unknown, Neighbors, Vulnerability and Choose. The images, collected from 50 countries across the globe, were united by a coronavirus-themed poem by an Irish priest, Brother Richard Hendrick. Shaughnessy says her husband, Andrew, a writer, suggested the poem, titled "Lockdown," which went viral after Hendrick posted it to Facebook on March 13.

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Rachael Porter / Photo contributed by Rachael Porter

"I said, 'That's it. This is beautiful,'" she remembers.

Muse obtained permission from Hendrick for the use of the poem, and the team began isolating images as raw and stock footage came in from filmmakers from around the world. In addition to looking for the broad themes reflected by the keywords, film editors sought visual cues gleaned from the poem, whose opening lines reference fear, isolation, panic buying, sickness and death.

"The idea is that you have a choice right now," Shaughnessy explains. "The fear is real. The anxiety is real. There's a lot that you can't control. But amidst all that is a feeling that you can still choose to love your neighbor, even if it means staying 6 feet apart."

Mazariegos says he was similarly moved by the poem and excited by the chance to connect with people through filmmaking. He works full-time as a counselor at the Hamilton County Chattanooga Family Justice Center, but coronavirus concerns prevent him from being physically present to help his clients.

"To not be able to do that has been really tough," he says, but filming gave him a way to "reach out." He appreciated that the Muse producers "didn't want to just capture beautiful visual scenes," he says. "They wanted to capture human interaction, something that tuned in to the story we were trying to tell."

Mazariegos' clip shows a young boy, Christian, from the East Lake Expression Engine, a neighborhood ministry based at New City Fellowship Church that uses music mentoring to effect social change. Christian is shown in his driveway, wearing a face mask, practicing his guitar.

His image appears near the end of the film after the poem's tone becomes more hopeful in callbacks to its opening lines. "Yes, there is fear, but there does not have to be hate," voice actor Marshall Davis Jones narrates. "Yes, there is isolation, but there does not have to be loneliness."

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Varina Shaughnessy / Photo contributed by Varina Shaughnessy

Mazariegos says he was surprised by how much the project helped tune his senses "to the beauty that's around me" and enabled him to be "more intentional about the good that's still going on."

Chattanooga filmmaker Rachael Porter says her reaction to the project was just as powerful. Excerpts from footage she shot of Linley Hollywood of Willow St. Deli distributing food to families in the Highland Park community, filmed for a separate coronavirus project, is also included.

The film, she says, "honors everything that's happening in a very global way, but our experiences individually are so diverse. It makes space for all of that." Just as important, she says, it gave the filmmakers a chance to "flex their creative muscle. I know I needed to pick up my camera. I wanted to tell stories at this time, but [the coronavirus] was so big that it was paralyzing."

Mazariegos notes that the video ends with pots and pans banging. "I would have never thought that would be something I would enjoy hearing, but the current state we're living in makes it sound beautiful," he says. "There's just a sense that we want to celebrate, whether it's the medical professionals or the folks delivering food or our teachers or our volunteers in the community. You're going to grab whatever's around you to celebrate.

"The production is pretty holistic," he adds. "You see a global, diverse community that just wants to celebrate in whatever way they can. It's pretty awesome."

View the film at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-Ik_YdsI9o.

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com.

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