Q&A With Director-Gemologist Orin Mazzoni of ‘Sharing the Rough’

Third-generation jeweler and graduate gemologist Orin Mazzoni  combines two loves—gemology and filmmaking—in his documentary Sharing the Rough, which is currently making the rounds on the American film festival circuit.

Mazzoni hails from a family of jewelers in the Detroit area. After working in his family’s business, he pursued another passion, obtaining a master’s degree in motion pictures and television from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Now, both loves meet in the recently debuted film Sharing the Rough, which follows a group of gem cutters, gemologists, and enthusiasts to East Africa who are on the hunt for a spectacular piece of rough that is later cut and set into a finished piece of jewelry.

I saw an early screening of the film during the AGTA Tucson GemFair this year, when Mazzoni invited dozens of industry insiders to peep the project, which is funded in part by an Indiegogo campaign. (The final version of the film—with original score and sound design, and color correction by Jill Bogdanowicz who colored The Grand Budapest Hotel and Gran Torino, among others—was completed on April 1.) To date, the film has already garnered several awards, including offical selections at both the 2015 Newport Beach Film Festival and the 48th Annual WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival.

Sharing the Rough documentary by Orin Mazzoni

Sharing the Rough documentary by Orin Mazzoni

JCK: Who conceived the idea for the film?

Orin Mazzoni: For 20 years, Roger Dery of Spectral Gems—who is in the movie—talked with me about his gem travels in developing nations, learning about the process in Sri Lanka, Namibia, Madagascar, Tanzania, and Kenya. I grew up in a third-generation family business and worked there for 10 years after receiving my bachelor’s degree, GG, and CGA. Roger used to perform gem-cutting demonstrations at our stores, and I have a few passions in life, two of which are fine jewelry and travel. When I was getting my master’s degree in motion pictures in San Francisco, I would meet Roger and his wife, Ginger, for dinner whenever they were in town. Through our common interests, our bond grew, and we became family. For some time we had talked about me joining them on a trip, and in 2011 that opportunity presented itself. Over dinner and a glass of chianti, Roger, Ginger, and I decided we would bring a camera to East Africa and make a no-budget run-and-gun doc on Roger, the gem hunter. With Roger’s knowledge I knew I had the potential to tell a great story. If you’ve seen the film, you know that idea morphed into something different—more intelligent, I think—and now four years later we’ve made a very powerful film together.

JCK: When did you start production/filming?

Mazzoni: In 2011 we did some test footage with just me directing, operating the camera, and recording sound. I shot 60 hours of footage over seven days, and after that, I knew there was a story that was interesting, educational, and worth the attention of the jewelry and gem world. The wheels started turning for a full feature production, and it took the next couple years to plan, research, and put a production team together. Principal photography began in January 2014 in East Africa and ended in March 2015 in California. We filmed in four countries and five states.

JCK: How were the participants in the film chosen? [Monica Stephenson of iDazzle.com, among others, is featured.]

Mazzoni: Honestly, they chose themselves. Initially this was to be a film centered on Roger and his travels; however, the narrative was woven together by the people who joined us on the trip—though they never expected to be on camera, do interviews, or work a camera. We ended up with a group of adventurous spirits who dove headfirst into the entire process. They were smart on camera, and with everything in the film being organic and unscripted, I just captured everything I could. It was in the edit room that we found the true nature of what we had.

JCK: What is the goal of the film? What do you hope happens as a result of the public viewing it?

Mazzoni: The goal is the same as any film: to be seen. A filmmaker, a painter, a gem cutter, whatever your art may be, you want people to enjoy it, see it, and think about what they’ve seen. We have the opportunity now for the first time, start to finish, to show how a gem comes out of the ground, is faceted, and then is made into a piece of fine jewelry. In the end, this is for the jewelry industry and jewelry lovers the same and maybe even to change the mind of people who are anti gems and jewelry due to all the knocks we’ve taken as an industry over the past years. Our hope is that the viewing public is entranced and excited about the prospect of owning a piece of fine jewelry containing a colored gemstone.

JCK: Who are some of the high-profile participants in the film besides the Tanzanite Foundation’s former executive director Hayley Henning?

Mazzoni: Doug Hucker, CEO of AGTA, was in the film many times. One of my favorite quotes of his, “The only thing permanent in color is a gemstone, and that will last for generations,” is a serious statement that tells the audience that gemstones are forever. When juxtaposed with the next scene from my father, Orin J Mazzoni Jr., a certified gemologist appraiser from the American Gem Society and also a graduate gemologist from GIA, stating that jewelry is an heirloom that is passed down from generation to generation, you have the concurrent power of what a gemstone is and the relationship it can have with a single person or a legacy. Current AGTA board member and treasurer of Los Angeles GIA Alumni Association Charles Carmona is one of the leads in the film, and his knowledge of gemology is unparalleled. We also have bits from Joe DuMouchelle, GG and past president of the GIA Michigan Alumni Association; Richard Drucker, president of GemWorld and publisher of the Gem Guide; and other members of AGS and GIA such as Dave McConnell, GG, so the film is chock-full of industry professionals.

JCK: How well did your group know the miners? Did a years-long buying relationship exist going into the film?

Mazzoni: Sharing the Rough is about the importance of relationships not only in Africa, but also throughout the entire process of making a piece of jewelry. Roger has made more than 20 trips to East Africa over a 15-year span and has worked with various brokers and miners. Without those well-developed relationships, we wouldn’t have a story or a film. The name of the film comes from those relationships that Roger built upon, and the “sharing” in the process from miner to broker to cutter to designer to owner, and so on. We all share in the process of the art of jewelry, and that is what this film is about.

JCK: In one scene, a miner drops dynamite into the earth and runs away right before an explosion occurs. Why did you include that?

Mazzoni: Because blasting is part of what some artisanal miners do. It’s part of the story of rough coming out of East Africa but leads into a very important fact: There is no higher power in any industry, top to bottom, than education. It is the underlying theme of the entire film. If you notice, the person who sets off the explosion has a speaking part right after, and as mine owner Gichuchu Okeno describes him, “he is a graduate, not just someone pulled from the bush.” This is a very important statement that leads into the next scene about the dangers of rogue mining. Additionally, in the scene before the explosion Roger states, “Now the locals feel empowered, and they have the ability to change what’s happening in their country.” I put the explosion after that message to metaphorically show the passion the miners have for education and proper infrastructure. 

JCK: In another scene, a member of your group says something about needing to wash up, and a miner tells him that there is no water. Why did you include that? 

Mazzoni: In a first-world country, we take water for granted. In East Africa water for a shower is a luxury. The scene showed the reality of Africa, the camaraderie between Roger and Sune Merisheki (the mine owner), and a bit of humor at the end of a day’s work. If you watch closely, right before we cut from Sune saying “for sure there is no water,” he’s laughing, probably at the fact that Roger feels so at home with the local people that he forgot that he really has no ability to take a bath.

JCK: Why didn’t you visit the Tanzanite One mines?

Mazzoni: Tanzanite One, while a major operation in northern Tanzania, was not part of the goal of the film. We visited the tanzanite blocks, but were much more interested in truly small-scale mining. Sune’s mine, which is part of Block D that borders Tanzanite One, is a story that focuses on artisanal mining. As our website states: “The world of colored gemstones is still dominated by individual miners and artisans, and each has a powerful and extremely unique story to tell.” I hope that the power of “the one,” the power of the small-scale artisans like jewelry designer Mark Schneider (who made the finished piece), Roger, Sune, and Okeno, reveal to the average person the determination and pride of the individual artist.

JCK: Are you still raising money for the film? 

Mazzoni: Yes. We’re part of a campaign called Indiegogo InDemand, which helps campaigns that have reached their funding goal but still need help for various reasons. We have revamped our Indiegogo page to reflect what we need: to promote the film, private screenings for distributors, film festivals, marketing, and more, all of which can add up very quickly.

For more information on the film, check out its website, learn about the story and the crew, watch a trailer, and donate so that more people can see this documentary.

You can reach Mazzoni directly at orinmazzoni@gmail.com.

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