Cirina Catania Documents Wounded Warriors for Furnishing Hope

By Barbara Goldman

Southern California-based writer, Director, Photojournalist Cirina Catania has a long history of success in both the major studio and independent film environments. She is one of the co-founders and former director of the Sundance Film Festival , was Associate Director of the Utah State Film Commission reporting to the Governor and head of the J.F. Images Talent Agency. She has credits in scripted and non-scripted as well as documentary filmmaking. Catania has created everything from feature-length films to television series to ground-breaking music videos. Her specialty and what puts her in demand with clients is the way she captures the story and the emotions of the people behind that story. Her experience as a marketing executive for United Artists has given her a keen visual eye and has made her a go-to person for assignments worldwide.

Catania has chased lightning in the Southwestern United States and written about Orphan Elephants for National Geographic, covered Danny Glover in South Africa during his travels for the UN Goodwill Ambassador Programme, shot avalanche-control training footage for the National Ski Patrol, written and directed 48 popular webisodes for Chivas Regal and MSN and has directed and shot reality TV series such as Untold Stories from the ER, Southern Steel, Worst Case Scenario and Merge.

Her latest project is what she describes as her "go to heaven" volunteer work with Furnishing Hope.  The United States Veterans Educational Institute (USVEI) and the Military Entertainment Channel contacted Catania to develop, produce and direct a web series, After Action In Depth. While doing research for After Action, she learned about Furnishing Hope, an organization that turns empty apartments into homes for people in crisis and specifically our military heroes.  The organization works with severely wounded warriors who are transitioning from the hospital to civilian life and housing for them. Most of these houses are empty— no furniture or comforts.  Double amputees sleep on blow-up mattresses on the floor, vets with PTSD and depression are wrapped in sleeping bags on cement floors, and sometimes they are sleeping and living out of cars. “It broke my heart to hear about it.  Beth Philips, Founder and Executive Director, and her volunteers take those empty houses and transform them into peaceful, comfortable homes complete with new furniture, new mattresses, bedding, kitchenware, etc.,” says Catania.  She contacted Philips and was so moved by the work, she decided to offer help by volunteering her directing, photography and videography services.  

Furnishing Hope is a small group with limited funding, and although they have been doing this work since 2006, there is no creative agency involved yet. Catania works directly with Philips, her staff and Board of Directors. Living Spaces  donates a gift card to Furnishing Hope that allows Philips and her crew to shop for furniture for each home.  The rest of the costs are covered from individual donations and additional money raised from warehouse sales of donated used furnishings.

© Cirina Catania/ Erick and his family in their new home.

Her greatest challenge with this kind of photojournalistic shoot is to figure out how to capture the story with a limited budget, in a very limited time period of three to five hours and in a cramped environment.  These apartments and homes are small and Catania does not want to be in the way. She has to be invisible but still be able to document the action and emotion. She must be fast but be able to capture delicate moments with respect and privacy. Even the stoicism on the part of her subjects, while she points out is very admirable, does not portray the true underlying emotions. How do you capture someone's inner thoughts with a room full of people and others vying for a vantage point?

© Cirina Catania/ Suzanne cries upon seeing the new home and bedroom for her son.

She travels to San Diego from LA whenever she can to document the stories of these wounded warriors. She has now become part of a very tight knit group and has been welcomed by these families.  “It was very important for me to know that Furnishing Hope and their clients are comfortable with me and that I fit in with their family.  Their clients are in crisis and it is imperative that I work in a way that allows me to be almost invisible, yet available when appropriate,” she explains.

On the technical side, Catania traveled to San Diego to capture footage for the initial video with a small team consisting of  herself on A-Cam and a team from Intelligent Assistance that includes Philip Hodgetts on B-Cam and Gregory Clarke to log the footage. Hodgetts and Clarke are her  Lumberjackers, utilizing a web-based program that logs footage live on set.

They had to shoot with available light and small portable cameras. They were not able to boom it because there was not enough room and it would have interfered with the natural flow of events.  “Sony's NEX7 is my current documentary camera for situations like these.  The video was shot using three NEX7's, an H4N and an H1N with a Lav only for interviews at the warehouse and for separate sound during the other shoots," she says.   They logged live on location with an iPad running Lumberjack.  The 32GB SD cards were imported into FCP X and edited using multi-clips and the dual system sound. Music was purchased from Music2 Hues. Since the NEX7 also shoots stills, Catania was able to quickly grab some shots in between shooting video utilizing the 18-55/3.5-5.6 Sony optical shot lens.

Since publishing the promotional video, the first sponsor, International Supplies  has brought in NEXTO DI  and Lumos to provide on-set backup/media duplication capabilities and high-CRI LED lighting that will be used for future in-depth interviews with veterans and volunteers. Catania says the video quality on the NEX 7 is hi-def 1920x1080 AVCHD, but she hopes to upgrade to 4K broadcast-quality capabilities in the near future.

Furnishing Hope has a channel on YouTube and they have used that venue as their launch platform and as a fundraising tool by the Board of Directors to all prospective donors and partners. Stills are also used on their Facebook page and for social media. With her experience as a shooter on unscripted reality series as Merge for the Lifetime Network, Catania knows how to portray the fast-paced installation and get the gripping reactions from her subjects.  Using her "television" approach with high entertainment values has brought greater awareness to the cause and with it the opportunities for more recognition, donations and volunteers. Catania also wants to publish a book and produce a TV series featuring these stories in order to secure more financing for the project and for the organization.

© Cirina Catania/ Andrew and Einstein get a home.

Furnishing Hope’s touching stories with very private moments and reactions to these newly furnished homes are a window into the souls of these proud people and their families.  hey need peace and now have a chance for a new life. They know they are loved, appreciated and not forgotten, and Catania is proud to be a part of that experience.

She will continue work on the book in 2014 and is gathering more video to pitch for a TV series. She is confident that she too will find a home for her project. View the Furnishing Hope video here, and see more of Catania's news, notes and projects at her site.


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