Tag Archives: Jill Anderson

In Their Own Words

May 25, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Members of the Greatest Generation tell their own stories in a locally produced documentary, 48 Stars. The in-progress film features personal testimonies from World War II veterans.

War buff Shawn Schmidt conceived the project. His co-director is Jill Anderson. The Omaha filmmakers are unlikely collaborators. He’s a holistic health care provider and former race car owner-driver. She’s a singer-actress. He’s unabashedly patriotic. She’s not. But they’re both committed to telling authentic stories of resilience.

They met while she was a patient under his care. After sharing CDs of her Celtic music, he was taken by her rendition of “Fare Thee Well.”

“It was not just the music, but Jill’s voice. That song fits everything this film has to say about that generation,” Schmidt says. “They’re disappearing, and the interviews we did are like their final swan song. It gave them a final chance to have their say about their country, their life, where America is today, where America is going.”

Originally hired as music director, Anderson’s role expanded. Filmmaker Aaron Zavitz joined the team as editor and creative consultant.

Forty-plus interviews were captured nationwide, mostly with veterans ranging across different military branches and racial-ethnic backgrounds. Some saw combat. Some didn’t. Civilians were also interviewed about their contributions and sacrifices, including women who lost spouses in the war. Even stories of conscientious objectors were cultivated. Subjects shared stories not only of the war, but of surviving the Great Depression that preceded World War II.

With principal photography completed, editing the many hours of footage is underway. The filmmakers are still seeking funding to finish the post-production process.

The film’s title refers to the number of stars—representing states—displayed on the American flag during World War II. Each interviewee is framed with or near a particular 48-starred flag that inspired the project. Schmidt rescued it from a junk store. On a visit to Pearl Harbor’s war memorials, he had the flag raised on the USS Arizona and USS Missouri.

He grew up respecting veterans like his late father, Richard W. Schmidt—a Navy Seabee in the Pacific theater. His father died without telling his story for posterity.

“It dawned on me I could interview other veterans and have them hold this flag, almost like a testimonial to what this piece of fabric is about,” Schmidt says.

He added that combat veterans’ accounts of warfare teem with emotion.

“There’s a distinct difference in energy, pain, and identification with their country and flag from the ones who did not have to kill. The ones who did kill are still hurting, and they’ll hurt till the day they die,” he says.

Whatever their job during the war, Anderson says, “There were discoveries with every new person we talked to. It’s humbling that people trust you with some of their most soulful experiences and memories.”

Schmidt says, “They opened up with stories sometimes they’d never shared with their family. I think, for a lot of them, it’s a catharsis.”

There are tales of love and loss, heroism and hate, improbable meetings, close calls, intersections with infamy, history, and fate.

Not all the attitudes expressed are sunny. Some folks became anti-war activists. Others returned home to endure Jim Crow bigotry.

Anderson says the film intentionally depoliticizes the flag: “It can’t be about God and country or honoring glory because that doesn’t match with the testimony.”

Schmidt feels an urgency to finish the project. “The generation that has the most to teach us is leaving,” he says.

He won’t rush it though.

“It’s a serious responsibility,” Schmidt says. “[The film] needs to honor these individuals who gave their time, and it’ll be done when it’s exactly right.”

Visit 48stars.org for more information.

This article appears in the May/June 2017 edition of Sixty-Plus, a periodical within Omaha Magazine.

Jill Anderson

July 14, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Triple-threat actress, singer, dancer Jill Anderson knows what it’s like to be the subject of adoring ovations, but now she’s sharing the spotlight with the most unwelcome of co-stars.

Anderson, one of the area’s most celebrated talents and one of the few local professionals with Actors’ Equity cred, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis earlier this year.

“I’m taking a philosophical approach to things so far,” says the woman who is also remembered for Beyond the Pale, her popular Irish folk band of decades past. “MS is a fairly serious diagnosis, but a lot of people live functional, productive lives with this disease. What I won’t let it do is to stop my creativity and my production of art, whether that be writing, concert work, or recording,” adds Anderson, who has released four volumes of Irish folk music through her Red Chair Records brand.

And acting? “I’m going to keep auditioning, but fatigue is a major symptom of MS for me right now, and we’ll see how that goes. Double vision is another symptom. Right now, for example, I see two of you,” she says of the interviewer sitting across the table in the garden of Caffeine Dreams coffee shop.

The artist may be seeing double, but she is working triple time in preparation for her fourth annual Joslyn Castle Literary Festival in September. Previous festivals have focused on such giants as the Bronte Sisters and Oscar Wilde. Last year’s effort was a flapper-fueled nod to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Each festival is a multifaceted exploration of a literary figure that has featured the likes of staged works, films, panel discussions—even a fashion show. This year’s festival delves into the undead world of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

It’s exactly the kind of initiative, says Anderson, that punctuates the idea that her “creativity bucket” can remain full regardless of where MS takes her. And if her diagnosis has anything at all resembling a silver lining, Anderson is now reconnecting with long dormant passions for poetry, the visual arts, and beyond.

“MS has given me a new set of circumstances,” she says, “but that’s really no different than any role or project I take on. In theatre, for example, my character also has a set of circumstances. There’s a script. There’s a setting. The character has a certain economic or social or whatever kind of background that guides who they are. Just like on stage, my life now has a new set of circumstances. It may be a matter of adding new avenues for creativity, but my art will continue.”

Follow the artist at redchairrecords.com and the festival at joslyncastle.com.