An Interview with BAVC Media’s Development Director: Jenny Slattery!

Published On: January 27, 2022 |

We are thrilled to announce Jenny Slattery as BAVC Media’s Development Director!

Jenny Slattery is the Director of Development at BAVC Media, where she leads the Development Team to sustain and grow BAVC’s community of funders. She is also the Co-Founder of Early Bird Films, which was created to advance promising films in the early stages of development. Previously, Jenny was the Associate Director of Foundations and Artist Development at SFFILM. She has also worked independently as an artist development and fundraising consultant, providing guidance and support to independent filmmakers and to media and education organizations that include SFFILM, ITVS, Group Nine Media, Kartemquin Films, OneGoal, NatureBridge, and Peer Health Exchange.

BAVC Media: When did you first cross paths with BAVC and what about the organization’s mission and vision resonates with you?

Jenny: I first encountered BAVC in 2016 when a friend of mine who was a Fellow at the time took me along to a MediaMaker Fellowship reception. I had the opportunity to talk to the filmmakers in her cohort. I found those makers and BAVC staff so thoughtful and warm and was really compelled by the stories they were telling. Through my work at SFFILM, I continued to meet staff members and storytellers who had been supported by BAVC, and to learn about the many programs at this organization—I was amazed by just how much was happening and being done, from youth programming to fellowships to training and preservation. I love and deeply believe in BAVC’s mission and investment in media justice and radical access, but what I’m most inspired by is how aligned this organization’s actions, decisions, and offerings are with that vision. It’s easy to become cynical in this world, so it’s a beautiful, almost magical thing when you see a group of people who are so committed to living their values, and who are forging all of these different, creative, concrete access points for makers with powerful and important stories to tell.

BAVC Media: What are 3 things that are currently bringing you joy?

Jenny: My family, particularly my supportive and funny husband and our big, fluffy dog. I’ve gotten very into listening to audiobooks and podcasts while doing puzzles (particularly if the book is a mystery). And I have to admit that the chaos of Real Housewives (especially Potomac and older New York seasons) bring me total joy.

A cute black and tan dog rests it's head on it's crossed paws

BAVC Media: What are you most excited about in taking on this Development Director role?

Jenny: I’m most excited about the people I will meet and get to know! I can’t wait to spend time with my new team members, BAVC supporters, and the storytellers working with the organization. I’m eager to learn about what BAVC means to each of them and how the organization can continue to grow.

BAVC Media: What is your favorite documentary of all time?

Jenny: That’s a tough question since there are so many! I don’t know if I can pick a favorite, but recent documentaries that come to mind straightaway are Minding the Gap and All These Sleepless Nights. I’m consistently drawn to stories about teenagers and young people. Those stories cut to the core of my own experiences, when I was being formed as a young person, while allowing me to marvel at how young people who are different from me navigate years that are so full of both pain and pleasure, a search for understanding, and a feeling of being sensitive and really alive. It’s a true rollercoaster. These two films are completely different in setting (Rockford, Illinois and Warsaw) and tone and artistic approach (one more grounded and personal, one dreamier and genre-bending) but they each offer an entry point into the truly complex, immersive experiences of young people that I found thought-provoking and poignant.

BAVC Media: What stories do you want to see better supported, funded, and celebrated? And why?

Jenny: I think that, in the midst of an important push to reflect our society and its inequities in a more truthful way, there have been expectations put in place for what stories about equity and justice look like. And those expectations can be limiting. There are many stories from artists of color, disabled artists, LGBTQ+ artists, and others who have been systematically marginalized in media that are radical and political but are not read that way because they do not explicitly pursue an argument about society or (seemingly) directly unveil oppression. There is huge value in powerful media that clearly centers questions about justice and equity, but I think there also needs to be more support for and attention given to stories that aren’t as easily categorizable or tied to a specific cause or issue but are, nevertheless, truly subversive and world-expanding. This includes a lot of experimental and archival work, personal filmmaking, stories that explore pleasure and happiness, and work where the maker is following their vision and curiosity without quite knowing what they will find.

BAVC Media: Tell us a little bit about what got you into the field of Development and why you find the work compelling and important.

Jenny: I fell into Development in a completely accidental way. I was working in a programmatic position at a nonprofit, and there was no more funding for that role, so I was getting ready to go when a senior member of the Development team essentially asked me “you ever thought of fundraising, kid?” I certainly hadn’t. I had no idea what the budget of the organization was ($1 million? $10 million?) and was terrified of the idea of asking people for financial support. But I needed a job, so I decided to try it. I was completely surprised by how aligned it felt with my interests, and how much I liked the work. At first, I thought of development as convincing someone to provide something. But I learned from mentors that successful development means approaching a funder with the belief that you both have something to offer that is valuable, and that bringing those offerings together to accomplish something you both believe in is exciting and powerful and benefits you both. I also love the combination of writing, relationships, and putting together some nifty systems and spreadsheets. It keeps me feeling sharp and balanced!

BAVC Media: What is one unexpected thing you have learned about yourself from the beginning of COVID until now?

Jenny: I learned that even though I have sometimes thought of myself as an introvert and can feel content being cozy with puzzles, books, and my own company, I really thrive off the energy of being in person with groups of people. I didn’t realize that I found being in a full room somehow calmed me.

A completed puzzle of an illustrated Berlin flea market scene on a cardboard mat on a table.

BAVC Media: What’s the most common misconception about Development and/or the world of funding that you can demystify for us?

Jenny: I think that the world of funding for both people working at nonprofits and artists can seem completely impenetrable, and that you need to have a specific personality or set of instincts to successfully navigate it. There are, of course, decision-makers and gatekeepers who are hard for most of us to reach or understand. But I think that development skills are much, much more teachable, and learnable than many people assume. If you are a critical thinker, relatively organized, and can tap into a sincere curiosity about what funders are passionate about and why, you can absolutely learn how to do funding research, make a funding plan, write a grant proposal, and slowly learn the ins and outs of building relationships around shared interests over calls and meetings. And then, once you’re more confident about those skills, this world has such a nice balance of being more interior—thinking through and writing things—and being among people—connecting with and coming to better understand them. I really wish more people at all stages in their careers could learn about the development path. There are many people I’ve encountered who may not realize it but truly would, I think, enjoy, and excel in this field.

BAVC Media: What advice would you give a young person who has a story to tell but doesn’t know where to start?

Jenny: Start anywhere. It doesn’t have to be the scene or strand that will open your story or be at its heart. It just has to be a breadcrumb in your mind that will lead you to the next story beat, the next moment, the next clue, the next person you realize you need to spend time with and film. Media making and storytelling are rarely linear, and we can only learn what our own unique creative process looks like by putting one step in front of the other. I’m a big fan of the Irish crime novelist Tana French, and I recently heard her say that she doesn’t know who committed the crime when she begins writing her books and that she doesn’t know how it all ends until about two weeks before her deadline. That was heartening to me, to hear that you can be in the dark for so long, but all the while creating something that will, when it’s ready, become a cohesive whole.

BAVC Media: What are you currently watching? Reading? Listening to? Give us 1 of each.

Jenny: I’m obsessed with (and recently re-watched the six seasons of) the UK show Line of Duty—it’s an examination of systemic police corruption in Central England. It’s just so thrilling, and the actors are brilliant. Also, you get a lot of strange and charming Scottish and Irish sayings that I cannot imagine flying around in an American workplace. It makes me want more unexpected metaphors in my daily life.

I just finished the novel Mexican Gothic, which was a wild ride. I usually steer clear of horror but the secluded, gothic setting and spirited (although thankfully not in a stereotypically flat “what a badass woman” way) Noemi got me hooked. And I’m always interested in learning about genre conventions and thinking about why we keep coming back to certain story structures, as well as what it means to break those expectations. I learned that the writer, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, has written novels within many genres, and I’m excited to read more of her work. Although I hope for the sake of my heart rate, they’re not quite as creepy. 

I want to listen to more music, but always find myself drawn back to podcasts. One of my favorites is Keep It. The pop culture takes are delightful, and I feel like the hosts are my witty friends. (No pressure, Ira, Louis, and Aida!)

BAVC Media: Jenny, we couldn’t be more excited to have you join the BAVC Media family! Thanks for taking time to talk with us. 

Jenny is dressed for winter on the beach with her two large dogs.