From running for Kitchener City Council in 2014 to competing in the "World's Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji," in 2019, Tessa Jennison represents a population of local leaders who, once they've begun their latest passion project, are always looking ahead to what's next; and most notably, how she can combine her bucket list with creating change for others.
The adventure racer has been running a local trek to raise awareness about homelessness since 2018. Waterloo Region Crossing (WRC) is a 65km/24hr winter trek which happens in February. Jennison selected the coldest month of the year to demonstrate the exposure local homeless populations experience when shelters are typically at capacity.
"I thought I should probably get some footage of this to use on Instagram," she said. "I reached out to my friend Mitch Mommaerts, who was shooting The Handmaid's Tale in Cambridge. He suggested we should put together a team to capture the whole trek.
"We ended up shooting a series of interviews with community members, who all shared their unique perspectives on homelessness and the affordable housing crisis,” she said.
Shot from 2018 – 2020, the documentary follows three WRC participants on the trek across Waterloo Region.
"My number one goal through this project is to educate and build empathy," said Jennison.
In the words of Duff Becker, "Just be human. It can be something as simple as saying hello to a neighbour experiencing homelessness."
Throughout the film, Detlef "Duff" Becker provides an authentic view of what homelessness looks like as he guides viewers through the streets he called home.
"Duff's interview was amazingly candid and personal," Jennison said. "In reality, that was the first time Duff and I ever met.
"[He] pointed out things I'd never noticed before even though I'd lived downtown my whole life. We became friends afterwards, which is when he joined the trek crew and started making preparations to join us for the 2019 trek," she added.
Becker died unexpectedly in December 2018, at the age of 52. His passing illustrates the magnitude of the hurdles that continue to face those who live without stable housing.
As the clips were interlaced, Jennison said she realized that although this was a local story, it had international relevance.
"A Starting Point explores what people are capable of, how we can rise to challenges and persevere through adversity." She hopes that the film will inspire viewers to reflect on ways that they can help.
"Relative to what they experience, the trek is a walk in the park. I wanted viewers to be able to feel something, to relate to the experience on a personal level," she said.
When the province shut down in March 2020, Jennison said it afforded her the time she needed to immerse herself in the film.
"I watched all of the footage and meticulously catalogued every clip." She transcribed everything by hand.
Financial support from the KW Community Foundation and Region of Waterloo Arts Fund meant Jennison could hire an editor, sound designer, colourist, and film score composer.
A Starting Point is screening for free at the Grand River Film Festival from April 26 - May 8, 2021.
"I'm thrilled that the film is being selected for festivals across Canada and even as far away as Sweden," she told Kitchener Today. "I made this film for our community, so it's wonderful to have so much support and visibility through our local film festival."
It has also been recognized by the Toronto International Women Film Festival and the Montreal Independent Film Festival and is a finalist in the Stockholm City Film Festival in Sweden.
Watch the trailer here.