Nonprofit Champion: Jesse Roberts | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Nonprofit Champion: Jesse Roberts

Rise Up International spreads its wings in the art of resistance


ith its mission statement about "building community through music and art," Rise Up International has been a part of the Central Oregon nonprofit scene since 2005. Rise Up and its volunteers have crossed into documentary filmmaking, providing ukuleles for local youth in schools and an Art Ambassador program with projects in 20 countries.

Jesse Roberts, the creative director of Rise Up, teamed up with filmmaker Jesse Locke and made the incredibly powerful documentary, "Radiance of Resistance," focused on two youths living under military occupation in Nabi Saleh, Palestine. As the film wins awards at festivals across the globe, Roberts, Locke and Rise Up have opened up an entirely new avenue of creativity.

We chatted with Roberts about the future of Rise Up, resistance and the power of art.

Source Weekly: Tell me about the initial inspiration for Rise Up.

Jesse Roberts: I spent most of my post high school years, into my 20s, traveling around the world and doing social development projects in the U.S. I was always inspired by indigenous culture, music, arts, and encountered a lot of poverty. When we moved to Bend in 2004, I made a great group of friends who were also passionate about working locally and internationally to give people a voice through education and the arts. We had some projects in India and Central America at the time and everything coalesced into forming Rise Up International.

SW: Were you always interested in filmmaking as a component of the nonprofit?

JR: For many years I've been motivated by the power that art and film has to raise social awareness. We produced a little short about street kids who were addicted to sniffing glue in Nicaragua in the mid/late 2000s. The process of meeting the kids and working with a film crew was very powerful. That morphed into Rise Up opening a rehab center for street kids.

Rise Up - Central Oregon Daily. from Rise Up Presents on Vimeo.


s a lifelong admirer of non-violent resistance I was very curious to know more about the Arab Spring, which was a peaceful movement in Tunisia that led to the ousting of long time president Ben Ali in 2011. I was invited to be part of a film called "PUSH Tunisia" by Bend residents Euijin and Nathan Gray. We brought in skateboarders from around the region to make a post-revolution film in Tunisia. It was an exciting time when Arab street artists, rappers, and young activists were being heard around the world. The film won an award and screened in several festivals including BendFilm. I had a chance to go back to Tunisia and show the film in the capital, Tunis. This experience changed the course of my life and I knew filmmaking was an art that we wanted to pursue as an organization.

SW: What inspired you to make "Radiance of Resistance"?

JR: After "PUSH Tunisia," Rise Up received ongoing contracts to coordinate diplomacy projects around the Middle East. The film really opened the door for us. We had a chance to get involved in the peaceful resistance movement in Palestine over the course of a few years and began doing grassroots journalism. These efforts led us to find a small village called Nabi Saleh which was largely led by women. There was a young girl who at the time was eight years old, Janna, and she was filming the occupation and conflict with her cell phone. She absolutely blew my mind. She was a very powerful young lady. We collaborated with the village to tell their story and to show the daily life of Janna and her friend Ahed Tamimi.

The Palestinian people welcomed my filmmaking partner, Jesse Locke, and I with open arms. The film was completed in late 2016. "Radiance" has been well-received and won Best Documentary Feature at Respect Human Rights Festival in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It's been shown around Europe, Tel Aviv, South Africa, the U.S. and other Middle Eastern Countries.

SW: Do you have any other film projects on the horizon?

JR: We are currently in post-production on a documentary short called "7Hills." It's a refugee skateboarding movie based in Jordan. We also have an environmental-focused film that we've received some funding for that's kicking off in February in Kiribati, a small tropical island located in the Pacific.

SW: Where would you like to see Rise Up evolve to over the next few years?

JR: Creatively we desire to improve our storytelling and production of documentary films. We really want to evolve our craft so that we can reach a wider audience and produce more content. We will stay focused on telling inspiring stories from conflict areas but we will expand into other social issues, interesting stories in the U.S., and music-focused feature films.

Rise Up is largely a volunteer-run collective based in Bend, Oregon. A lot of people locally don't realize that we have ongoing music education projects that we fund in local schools, an annual arts summer camp, and the Bend Roots Festival. We are always looking for people to get involved.

For more information contact [email protected]

Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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