PHILADELPHIA — Justin Jarrett, a 2005 Milton Area High School graduate, has found success in documentary filmmaking.
But his latest, directing “Life Aid: A Story of Hope,” took years of small steps and overcoming obstacles. Jarrett explained he went to Penn State University and majored in film at the College of Communications. During Jarrett’s senior year, Aaron Klinger, also a Milton graduate, died in an auto accident.
Two weeks after graduation, Jarrett took off on a cross-country bicycle trip with two other men in memory of his best friend. The effort was filmed and became “For Aaron, The Documentary,” an award-winning feature.
“That basically started my production company,” Jarrett said. “I had to start a production company in order to make the film. We just celebrated our 10 year anniversary.”
Jarrett said JTwo Films started small but has grown since.
“Back then we sold t-shirts and wristbands out of my car to raise money and support ‘For Aaron,’” he said. “Now we have 12 of us here at JTwo. We have an office in Chicago and here in Philly, which is our headquarters. Now I have producers and editors. I just write and direct stuff.”
“Life Aid: A Story of Hope” began over nine months ago with a phone call from a producer at Al Roker Entertainment who had idea he thought would be perfect for JTwo.
The concept was to cover the success of The LifeAid Project, a research institute which uses special therapies and physical fitness to help people with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and thoughts of suicide. Segments included the stories of 9/11 first responders, state troopers and military veterans.
Jarrett said his crew dove right in to a rigorous shooting schedule.
“We were actually filming all January and February,” he said. “The night the (National Basketball Association) postponed its season, we were scheduled to go to shoot in New York City the following day. I called and said I don’t feel safe taking my crew there with all that was going on.”
Jarrett said it was ironic, but he came down with a case of COVID during the shoot.
“We were flying all over the country in January and February before people really knew what it was,” Jarrett said. “I was filming with a doctor in Scarsdale, N.Y. He looked at me and said, ‘You don’t look good.’ I said, ‘I don’t feel good.’”
Jarrett recovered after a 15-day lockdown, but putting the film together would be different. Post-production was largely through Zoom calls in people’s homes after computers were moved in.
The people interviewed for “Life Aid” had already been working with the organization. Jarrett said they included a Navy SEAL, a paratrooper, a North Carolina State trooper and others from all walks of life.
“The interviews were incredible,” Jarrett said. “They opened up. Their stories were heartbreaking.”
Another one of Jarrett’s best friends from high school, Adam Kelly, had also been battling cancer during the period of filming. Kelly recently lost the fight, which Jarrett said made it difficult to do some of the interviews.
“Life Aid: A Story of Hope” has been featured on The Discovery Channel, The Science Channel and the American Heros Channel.
An upcoming edition of The Standard-Journal will have more on Jarrett, Life Aid and his upcoming documentary projects.