by Julia M. Plevin ’09
There is something supernatural about Jethro Rothe-Kushel ’03. Maybe it stems from the fact that he shares a first name with biblical Moses’ father-in-law or that he was a religion major and his most impactful class was called “American Prophets.” That he got his start as a filmmaker on Pharaoh’s Streets only adds to the prophetic air that surrounds him.
“Pharaoh’s Streets” was the name of the documentary that Rothe-Kushel made the summer after his freshman year at Dartmouth. Inspired by a Sociology class called “Urban Blues” about homelessness in downtown Los Angeles, Rothe-Kushel applied for a grant from the College for money to make a documentary on the subject. Upon receiving the grant, he took the project very seriously. He became fully committed to his documentary and ended up working on it through the following year, taking it to film festivals around the globe. It was this one project and the idea that something he created could have an impact on people even when he was not around that made him decide to take filmmaking “from a small little hobby to a life mission.”
While Jethro knew he wanted to do something with movies, he majored in religion because it was a topic he wanted to explore. He does see a connection between movies and religion and did his final paper on the movie Fight Club. He also believes that in “some weird way, movies do share a similar purpose to religion,” reasoning that movies are like storytelling to large groups of people. Films become ritualized and communities exist around the stories. “These days,” he says, “people grow up more on movies than on stories in church, synagogues, or mosques.”
A native of Silver Lake, Los Angeles, Jethro grew up around cinematography. Many of his friends had parents in the film business and he had had some experiences on a set before college. Far away from sunny Los Angeles, Jethro continued to explore his interests in cinema and new media while at Dartmouth. Groups on campus, such as Milan and Sheba, paid him to create small videos that could be sent through blitzmail. In 2000, there were videos on the Internet, but it was not yet common to send movie clips over blitz.
Six years out of college, Rothe-Kushel is already well on his way towards his “life mission.” After graduating, he received a grant to do a film on religious rituals. From there, he first got a job as an unpaid Production Assistant for a short film. He was next recommended to do the same job for a feature film. He walked into an office one week before production, to a first time director who had spent his days doing effects for The Ring and Fifth Element, but did not know the first thing about directing a feature film. This gave Rothe-Kushel an opportunity to take on more responsibility. He started to work with the director and became an Associate Producer. From there, he has produced films and television and directed several MTV music videos. He also has worked as “the new media guy” for non-profits, helping them create content and strategize. He makes breaking into the industry sound so straightforward and easy. He alludes to karma as he says “it all started from volunteering my time.”
Rothe-Kushel understands that the film industry is very challenging because lots of people want to make movies or be involved in documentaries. Professor Jim Brown in the Film Studies department told him that succeeding in the film industry is less likely than making the NBA draft because it is challenging and hard to navigate. While Rothe-Kushel seems to have weathered the journey quite well, he notices that in entertainment and media, there is “no one along the way who has really taken me under their wing.” Therefore, he was instrumental in the creation and development of Dartmouth Alumni in Entertainment and Media Association (DAEMA), to create a community of Dartmouth alums. To bridge the gap of Hanover to Hollywood, he created mentorship and internship programs.
Rothe-Kushel recommends that Dartmouth students interested in this field should “run away if they can,” but provides advice if the student has the same higher calling that has motivated him. First, the student should work to build a community of people she respects professionally and, of course, get involved with the Dartmouth alums in entertainment. Rothe-Kushel acknowledges that the financial aspect is hard to overcome because it is a challenge to find the money to support projects. He takes on the role of Benjamin Franklin as he advises aspiring producers to save at least ten percent of every check. Additionally, it is important to become familiar with the technical aspects, such as editing programs, cameras and lighting, and literary aspects, especially being able to understand how to craft a story. Most importantly, he adds, is to have good “emotional intelligence” so that “you can motivate people and manage yourself.” If you can motivate yourself and others, you will “achieve your goals in films or anything.”
Rothe-Kushel does have goals for the future and keeps challenging himself. Next on the list is to direct a feature movie and continue to direct music videos. As a freelancer, he has to take his own advice and build community around him. He claims he has no one looking over his shoulder but himself, but that does not seem to be true. There seems to be a higher power watching over him and helping him to achieve his life mission of impacting people now and for many generations to come. Inspired by other writers, life experiences, music, art, and God, Rothe-Kushel will continue to create films with a lasting impact.