Jessica Schoenbaechler ('06 M.F.A.) biography
Three days into a trip last summer with Melinda Levin, associate professor of radio, television and film, Jessica Schoenbaechler woke to stationary gun explosions.
She had traveled to Nahariya, Israel, with Levin to assist her in shooting footage for a documentary Levin was creating about traditional Israeli women. Plans changed when Shiite Lebanese Hezbollah forces launched a rocket and mortar attack on northern Israel.
"We realized we were only two or three miles away from where the fighting started. We moved from the kibbutz to stay with a Muslim family," Schoenbaechler says. "Then Israel bombed the bridge to Syria — that really scared me. Being in a war zone was a very surreal experience."
By the end of the week, Levin and Schoenbaechler left Tel Aviv for the United States after Levin's brother secured airline tickets for them. They arrived back in Denton seven days after leaving for Israel, where they had planned to spend three weeks.
Being caught in a war zone — and learning that funding for a film can be lost with changes in a shooting schedule — didn't discourage Schoenbaechler from pursuing her dream to be an independent filmmaker.
She currently works full time as a researcher and writer for AMS Production Group in Dallas and as an instructor of introductory video production at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Originally from Angleton, Schoenbaechler received bachelor's degrees in English and radio/television/film from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000. She then taught high school English and speech in Austin.
She produced one short film as an undergraduate but says she knew she wouldn't be ready to turn filmmaking into her career without additional film training. She enrolled in UNT's M.F.A. program in 2003 and eventually worked on 10 different films — her own films and the films of others.
"With each one, I set goals for myself," she says. "The M.F.A. program gave me a firm foundation of the history and theory of documentary film, and how to structure films and execute them."
Schoenbaechler used personal subjects for the two films she wrote and directed. She tells her grandfather's story in Khakis and Cadillacs. Her grandfather spent his life trying to become rich with an oil or gas well — only to die six months after a well was erected on land to which he could claim mineral rights.
She shot her thesis film, Beach Drive: Public Rights and Private Property, in the village of Surfside, a beach community near her hometown. The film examines the causes of coastal erosion and asks who is responsible for safeguarding public rights and private property on beaches.
Schoenbaechler received recognition for Beach Drive when it was shown on KERA-TV in Dallas last August as part of the Frame of Mind series and on KUHT-TV, Houston's PBS affiliate, in April.
"Making a documentary film is a way to not only be creative, but to showcase important topics," she says.