Documenting a Dream

Jenny’s 20 year career in social work gave her a unique appreciation for the compelling life stories of ordinary people. At 42 years old, Jenny returned to school to follow her new passion – documentary filmmaking. Her film, Kick Like a Girl, made a huge impression on the TodaysMama staff – see what keeps this inspiring woman going in our latest Dream Big profile.

Jenny Mackenzie, Ph.D

City / State
Salt Lake City, UT

What was your big dream?
My big dream was to become a documentary filmmaker, and successfully navigate a mid-life career transition. I had been a family therapist and non-profit administrator for over 20 years and I had always appreciated the power of documentary film and its ability to create social change. In my career as a social worker I was so amazing how many compelling and inspirational life stories from ordinary people who were really extraordinary heroes I would hear on a regular basis. I always felt like “these stories need to be told and shared with the world”.

How did you accomplish it?
At the age of 42 I went back to film school and studied to be a documentary filmmaker. I decided to treat it like a new ‘start up business’ and give my self 5 years to break into the field. I got lucky, and my first two films have been quite successful, so I’m off and running!

Where did you find inspiration to get started?
My family has been incredibly supportive and I have a wonderful husband who really encouraged me to follow my dream and do this career change. The real inspiration, however, comes from the people I get to interview for my films. Their life stories and points of view are fascinating, and I am honored to be able to tell their stories.

What motivated you to keep going?
The stories that need to be told always keep me going. I tend to see so many situations as a ‘potential documentary’. It’s sort of a joke in our family now- I’ll hear a story from one of our daughters or meet someone on the airplane, who shares their life story, and I’ll think “wow, this could be a good documentary”!

What’s your next Big Dream?
I spent many years in my social work career working with pregnant and parenting teens, and that is what my dissertation research focused on as well. I hope to go back to that topic since unplanned teenage pregnancies continues to be such a national issue. It’s a complex, multifaceted problem, so I hope to do an in-depth film through the eyes and experience of some teenage girls. If you know any teens that are willing to be interviewed, please let me know!

When you were 5 what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to work with people and help people. When I was 5 I actually wanted to be a pediatrician.

What about when you were 15?
I took my first psychology class as a sophomore in high school and I loved it! I knew at that point that I would wind up in the human service profession at that point.

Now, what do you want to be when you grow up?
I think this is it. I love making documentary films, looking at people’s lives, situations, and challenges, and helping to tell their stories so that a large audience can think about social change. Being able to capture those stories and situations is a wonderful and exciting challenge.

What book is on your night stand?
Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali: a celebration of triumph over adversity, Hirsi Ali’s story tells how a bright girl (in Somalia) evolves out of dutiful obedience to become an outspoken, pioneering freedom fighter.

What’s your Guilty Pleasure? (Grey’s Anatomy, Peppermint Mocha Lattes)
I love great coffee, crème brulee, and Haribo gummy bears- I could easily eat a pack a day!

What song moves you?
I love the popular music that my teenage girls listen to, except for the rap!

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