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Sarah Jones Film Foundation makes a Tragedy Count for More

Her career may have been tragically brief, but the late camera operator and aspiring cinematographer Sarah Jones—whose parents, Richard and Elizabeth, have started a fund in her name with the Community Foundation—made a distinct impression on the industry in which she thrived. An ambitious, dedicated West Columbia native, Sarah established firm friendships on every production she contributed to. “She erased lines between people,” her father Richard says. “Everyone she came into contact with and worked with, she just affected them in such a deep way.”

In February of 2014, Sarah was killed by a moving train on the set of an independent film in rural Georgia. She was only 27 years old. “The day it happened, a wave went through the whole industry,” her mother Elizabeth says. “It was just a shock, the trauma of it. I don’t know of anyone who wasn’t touched by it.” Her death rekindled an ongoing debate about the substandard working conditions many crew members must endure on film and television sets. Soon after her passing, directors from Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) to Lena Dunham (HBO’s Girls) were joining the Safety for Sarah movement to advocate for better safety regulations on behalf of their workers.

Richard and Elizabeth say they have partnered with the Community Foundation to “keep the awareness alive” so what happened to Sarah will never happen again. “We’re trying to change a culture,” Richard says, “and to change a culture, you have to start with the youth.” In addition to developing the Set Safety app—a program for Smart Phones that allows users to report labor violations in real time—and hosting yearly Walks for Safety in industry hubs like Los Angeles and New York City, the Sarah Jones Film Foundation makes grants to support college and university productions. “Film students don’t often have that much money, and we want to instill in them the importance of not cutting corners with safety,” Richard says.

The guidance and insight of the Community Foundation have deepened the impact of their mission significantly, Elizabeth says. “They’ve led the path for us, not knowing squat about foundations. They set the tone and talked about what to do with the money, constantly asking ‘How is the best way to promote safety on set?’” Richard agrees. “I run a for-profit business. When it comes to a nonprofit, I am inexperienced. We both needed advice on how to go about being successful.” With the assistance of the Community Foundation, the Sarah Jones Film Foundation is poised to succeed on a grand scale—the most fitting way, Elizabeth says, to honor her daughter’s memory. “We’ve chosen to make the best out of something bad,” she says. “To make this tragedy count for more.”

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