Award: Research & Development Grant

Discipline: Digital Media Arts

Project Collaborator(s): Jonathan VanBallenberghe, cinematographer; Clarice Bales, sound recordist 

City/Town: Tucson

Year: 2019

Artist Website:

The community of viewers is my primary focus. Many people are ignorant of borderlands ecology, or even of the biology in their backyards. I wish to educate people while sparking wonder, and connection–before we are all literally up against the wall.

Excerpt from Leslie Ann Epperson’s R&D Grant application

Tucson filmmaker Leslie Ann Epperson’s grant award will support work on her documentary-in-progress, Of Jaguars, Sky Islands, and Us.

Epperson began this project two years ago after seeing an online video of a jaguar in a nearby canyon. Named El Jefe by school children, the jaguar roamed the Santa Rita mountains near Tucson. “El Jefe seemed the perfect movie star, a loner, in danger and searching for a mate,” says Epperson. Inspired by this creature living in her backyard, the filmmaker began interviewing wildlife scientists and researching the ecology of the borderlands, as well as the potential impact of the proposed expansion of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

The funding will enable Epperson to travel with a production crew to the Northern Jaguar Reserve, 400 miles south of Tucson. The Reserve is the core sanctuary for the northernmost breeding population of jaguars. There she will film the spectacular landscape and talk onsite to the people who have created this refuge. Shooting at NJP will support the premise of Epperson’s story, “a belief that we receive essential spiritual sustenance whenever we encounter life’s unfettered, improbable tenacity.”

Celebrate Now, a short film about Jennifer Coughlan, an acrobatic dancer, and aerialist struggling with Stage Four Breast Cancer. The film premiered in 2016 at the Loft Film Fest in Tucson.

Leslie Ann Epperson makes cultural and natural history documentary films for television and theatrical release. Her work has been broadcast by the nationwide PBS Network as well as several regional PBS stations and has screened at theatres in Arizona and California. Recent theatrical selections include the Loft Film Fest, Arcosanti Film Carnivale, and the Arizona International Film Festival. She is the recipient of three Emmy Awards for Directing, Writing and Editing the PBS program, Divine Mission San Xavier del Bac, Best of Arizona from Arizona International Film Festival for Many Bones, One Heart, and Best Heart Beat Award for Celebrate Now from the Just Be You Festival. Several programs Epperson created for PBS affiliates reside in library collections throughout the United States.

Epperson also makes photo mixed media artwork and artist books, and has exhibited throughout the United States and in the United Kingdom. Her artist book, Another Day, was purchased by the University of Arizona Special Collections. Epperson is thrilled that Divine Mission San Xavier del Bac still screens daily at the Mission San Xavier museum, as it has for almost twenty years.

Photo of artist by Nicci Radhe of Celesteal Photography

Banner Image: Photo of artist by Nicci Radhe of Celesteal Photography