An Artistic Approach to Social Issues

Deb Tullman

Deb Tullman

Deb Tullman ’00 discovered two passions at Westmont: the arts and social justice. During her college years, she felt torn between the two. The summer after her freshman year, she traveled to Mongolia for a short-term mission. “That trip expanded my world view and led to my interest in international social issues,” Deb says. Choosing a double major in English and dramatic literature, she spent the next two summers pursuing the arts, doing an intern- ship with a New York City theater company one year and participating in the Theater Mayterm the following. She also went on England semester. “I loved my English classes and the theater and became invested in the arts,” she says.

But she also wanted to do something to help people, so after graduating she held a year-long internship with the global health officer at World Vision in Washington, D.C., planning a 2001 global health forum in Bangkok. Deciding to pursue a master’s degree in public health, she got a job as a research assistant with Harvard’s public health department in Boston and began taking a class each semester. But after several years she felt frustrated; she wanted to be working in a clinic in Africa and the program at Harvard seemed too academic.

Unsure what to do next, she moved to San Francisco and waited on tables. “That’s when I stumbled on the way to marry the arts and the creative process with my concern for social issues,” she says. “I met someone making a documentary on epilepsy and offered to write a grant proposal for it —and discovered making documentaries is a perfect way to bring together my interests.”

In 2007, Deb formed Candlefoot Productions with Cortney Hamilton. The two of them do everything for the company: writing, directing, filming, editing, marketing and accounting. They hire extra help when they need it. One of their films, “Ecuador: Flower Power” appears on the Frontline Web site, www.pbs.org/frontlineworld. It tells the story of fair-trade-certified roses grown in Ecuador. They hope to do more documentaries about fair-trade entrepreneurs with Transfair, the agency that certifies fair-trade items.

Candlefoot accepts a range of work from filming videos for families to training sessions for corporations, but their passion is documenting social issues. They have worked on a film in Peru on health concerns and produced a video for the United Nations Stand Up Against Poverty Millennium Campaign Web site to increase awareness of the initiative. They got this job through a Westmont connection, an alumnus employed at the UN. Another alumnus called her after seeing the Frontline piece and offered advice on marketing. She has also encountered writers and directors in the Bay Area who went to Westmont. “It’s great to see the Westmont community is still vibrant after we have left and that people continue to connect around that experience,” she says.

Deb attends St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, and the priest hired Candlefoot to document their Easter Vigil. The Episcopalian congregation draws on Orthodox and early church traditions and emphasizes the arts and the creative process. “The services provide an organic experience that celebrates the holy in our lives,” she says. “I’ve become fascinated with the liturgy and have visited Greek and Russian Orthodox churches.”

Deb hopes to do more films focusing on international social issues and see Candlefoot become sustainable. “Making documentaries feels like a perfect match for me, bringing together my love for arts and desire to help people.”

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