UF Alumnus Films “Jessie’s Dad”

Boaz Dvir’s film about a father’s tragic journey will be shown at a Fort Lauderdale film festival.
Boaz Dvir shoots Mark Lunsford's father Archie as he plays guitar

Boaz Dvir shoots Mark Lunsford's father Archie as he plays guitar. Dvir shot film in places like Tallahassee, Utah and Washington, D.C., and even at killer John Couey’s Miami trial. Photo courtesy of Boaz Dvir.

They say time heals all wounds, but for Boaz Dvir (BSJ ’88, MAMC ’08, 8FA) some scars are too important to let fade. Dvir has preserved tragedy in his documentary “Jessie’s Dad,” hoping his provocative film spurs discussion at this year’s Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.

The hour long documentary follows Mark Lunsford as he visits state capitols to push legislation that strengthens penalties against sex offenders. Called “Jessie’s Law,” the legislation is named for Lunsford’s 9-year-old daughter, who was raped and killed by a convicted pedophile in 2005. So far, Lunsford has persuaded more than 40 states to pass “Jessie’s Law,” according to the documentary’s website.

Lunsford will be attending the Oct. 30 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival screening of “Jessie’s Dad.” He will answer questions after the showing at Sunrise Civic Center Theatre, which plays into the purpose for Dvir’s film.

“I’d really like to have the place packed,” Dvir says. “I would love for us to fill that beautiful theater with people who can really discuss this issue and then take it from there.”

“Jessie’s Dad” has received much acclaim since its 2008 rough cut screening on the University of Florida campus. It was named best documentary at the 2011 ITN Distribution Film and New Media Festival in Los Angeles, and it won the CINE Special Jury and Direct Cinema Outstanding Documentary awards, according to the website.

Jessie Lunsford

A portrait of Jessica Lunsford. So far, over 40 states have passed "Jessie's Law," which toughens penalties on sex offenders and makes tracking them easier. Photo courtesy of Boaz Dvir.

Dvir first became interested in Jessica’s story when he wrote a freelance story for the St. Petersburg Times about Lunsford becoming a child-protection activist. Jessica was kidnapped from the family’s home in 2005 by a neighbor, John Couey, who raped and killed her. Even though he was a sex offender, Couey was initially ignored as a prime suspect by police, who concentrated on Mark Lunsford and his father Archie, according to the website.

Dvir, who lived in Homosassa, was touched by something so tragic happening in his hometown.

“My sister went to Jessie’s school, Homosassa Elementary School,” Dvir says. “When the story broke, I followed it very closely.”

Dvir came up with the idea for a film after he learned that Mark Lunsford, a Harley biker and truck driver, had reinvented himself as an activist for child-safety. At the time of filming, Dvir was a student at UF’s Documentary Institute, which has since moved to Wake Forest University.

“I did the rough first cut of film for my master’s thesis,” Dvir says. “I’ve changed it a lot since then.”

The film was co-produced by Rebecca Goldman (BSJ ’06, MAMC ’08) with funding from the Carole Fielding Student Grant. Though money was tight and the filmmaker had limited access to equipment, Dvir was satisfied with his dynamic subject, shooting more than 120 hours of film.

“He [Lunsford] is such a fascinating character,” Dvir says. “Whenever I put the camera on, there was never a dull moment. Everything this guy does and everything in his life is interesting.”

Dvir says his abilities in filmmaking and investigating, necessary for any documentarian, were influenced by his time as a UF journalism and then communications student. The Documentary Institute allowed him to further hone his skills.

Mark Lunsford

Mark Lunsford speaks in “Jessie’s Dad.” The film was a finalist for the International Documentary Association’s David L. Wolper Award. Photo courtesy of Boaz Dvir.

“The program at UF gave me discipline, made my storytelling precise, more lean and mean, able to hit the ball harder,” Dvir said. “That’s stayed with me throughout my filmmaking.”

Forever a student, Dvir, who serves as creative services manager for UF’s Lastinger Center for Learning, took lessons from his experience with “Jessie’s Dad.”

“As members of the media, we have enormous responsibility,” Dvir says. “I could take the footage and use it to say anything I wanted. I could’ve used it to make him sound like a saint, I could’ve used it to make him sound like a demon. So the key was for me to use the footage and tell the true story I saw.

“And don’t think it’s objective,” Dvir continues. “You’re always telling a story in a subjective way, but you must always tell your story in the most accurate way possible. I told my story about how Mark is a highly intense, controversial character, but he gets things done.”

When “Jessie’s Dad” plays in Fort Lauderdale, Dvir does not want his film seen as entertainment, but instead as a conversation starter on the matter of child safety.

“I’m not looking to convince anyone of anything,” Dvir said. “I just want them to think and talk about it. I want to stimulate discussion for this issue. We cannot ignore it, we need to think about solutions, argue about solutions. And that’s what I hope to do with this film.”

—Wade Millward* (2JM)

*UF Alumni Association member

Learn more

To learn more about the documentary, visit jessiesdaddocumentary.com or the documentary’s page on the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival’s website. Below is a ten-minute preview of the film, and you can watch a two-minute preview here at the film’s website.

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2 Responses to “UF Alumnus Films “Jessie’s Dad””
  1. Jessi says:

    The film will definitely be a conversation starter. I’m not at all surprised at how far it has come. It’s great to hear that Mark will be there too!

  2. Katherine says:

    This film is a must-see! It’s amazing to watch Mark Lunsford’s transformation into such a savvy activist. October 30th!

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