Alumna Project: The Mystery of Marie Jocelyne

The above video advertises the Kickstarter campaign of “The Mystery of Marie Jocelyne”, a documentary created by Dan Nuxoll and Martha Shane ’05 as they try to track down a mysterious woman named Marie who has been the perpetrator of dozens of cases of fraud across the globe. The more I read about this project on the Kickstarter page and in this blog post about the story on the Wall Street Journal, the more intrigued I became. I sent Martha some questions about her time at Wesleyan, what she’s been doing since, and this film in particular. That interview is lying in wait past the jump. Be sure to also read the “about this project” section on the Kickstarter page and, if you feel inclined to help out a Wes alum, toss a few dollars their way. The project has 11 days to get about $12,000 and could really use your help.

What did you major in when you studied at Wesleyan?

I was a Film Studies major.

Who was your favorite professor or what was your favorite class at Wesleyan?

I loved all of my professors in the Film department, and I still think frequently about our class discussions and the films we watched. I took fantastic classes with Jeanine, Jacob, Lisa, and Scott, all of whom are teaching at Wesleyan now. Outside of film, my favorite professor was Cecilia Miller, who teaches Intellectual History. She really taught me to think creatively in an intellectual context, and she encouraged radical interpretations of texts that have been studied for hundreds of years.

What other exciting things did you participate in as an undergraduate?

So many things! Finger painting in WestCo, going to improv shows, seeing every movie in the film series, etc. I had a lot of fun! But work-wise, I’ve always been somewhat hyper-focused, and I spent a lot of time on schoolwork — I didn’t do a ton of extracurriculars.

Did your time at Wesleyan help influence your career decision and, if so, how?

Definitely! Before I went to Wesleyan, I thought I wanted to be a fiction writer. But once I started taking film classes — and especially once I had the chance to make films in Sight & Sound — I began to realize that that’s what I wanted to do. When I graduated, though, I expected to work on fiction films, but then I discovered documentary, and I just fell in love.

Your Kickstarter page says that you were also the producer and co-director of the film Bi the Way. Could you tell us a bit about this film and your involvement with it?

Bi the Way is a feature documentary that takes its audience on an adventure-packed road trip through the changing sexual landscape of America. I got involved with the project when it was about half shot, and it was the first documentary I worked on after graduating in 2005. I immediately loved working on it, and my role just evolved over time into that of producer, co-director, and co-editor. I learned a ton from my partners on that project, Josephine Decker and Brittany Blockman, and I learned something about every aspect of making documentaries. It was a great experience, and we were lucky enough to premiere it at SXSW 2008, and then sell it to LOGO for TV. Now it streams on Netflix.

The Kickstarter page also says “Martha is a filmmaker who has interviewed polyandrous witches in the Ozarks and documented community healthcare in post-Katrina New Orleans.” Could you tell us a bit about what this enigmatic quote is referring to, and how you got involved in these projects?

Sure! I interviewed polyandrous witches in the Ozarks when I was traveling around the country shooting Bi the Way —unfortunately, believe it or not, that footage ended up on the cutting room floor! — and I documented healthcare in post-Katrina New Orleans for Fleur de Vie, a video project that I worked on with Brittany Blockman about a student-run health clinic and the healthcare problems that are faced in post-Katrina New Orleans. In the context of the Kickstarter, we were trying to emphasize that both Dan and I have had some crazy experiences working on documentaries, but neither of us has ever encountered a story as crazy as the one we’re telling in The Mystery of Marie Jocelyne.

How did you and Dan Nuxoll meet and, more broadly, how did you get involved in researching Marie?

Dan and I met via mutual friends. We were actually dating when we initially started working on this project, but now we are just great friends. I kept hearing from Dan about this woman who had failed to pay Rooftop for some rental equipment, and together we began doing some basic google searches, not necessarily expecting to find anything. One thing led to another, however, and we discovered that Marie Castaldo, then director of the Queens International Film Festival, had actually used a variety of names over the years and had been tied to numerous fraudulent film festivals and film companies. It was a total surprise at first, and then we just became more and more entranced by her story and increasingly absorbed in our investigation.

Do you have any interesting stories from the filming process that you would like to share?

So many! Let’s see… The moment when I first realized that this had to be a feature documentary was Thanksgiving of 2009. I had found an email address for one of Marie’s former business partners, and I just reached out to him cold with a link to a photo of Marie. I didn’t necessarily expect a response–I wasn’t even sure the email address would work. But on Thanksgiving day, I got a message on my cell phone. Her former business partner could not believe that I was getting touch with him after twenty years, and we spent about an hour talking on Thanksgiving as he shared with me crazy stories about Jocelyne (that was her name at the time) and how she had taken tens of thousands of dollars from him in the early nineties. I thought — if she’s been doing this for twenty years, then there is definitely a movie here.

[Thanks to Nathan Shane ’13 for the tip!]