I was shocked and sad to learn yesterday that Taunja Isaac passed away last week. Although I did not know her well, I considered her a friend. I’d met her several years ago, through RCTV, when she was working with the after-school group In-Control that meets at RCTV to produce TV programs and PSAs with positive health messages.
Taunja was working on completing her Masters Degree in the College of Imaging Arts and Animation at RIT when we first met. As her Masters Thesis, she produced the film Minus 25: The Betty Tyson Story, which tells the story of Betty Tyson, a Rochester woman convicted of murder in May 1973, and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, in spite of questionable evidence. Betty’s conviction was overturned 25 years after sentencing.
Taunja had first heard of the story when she was 9 years old. She decided to use her journalistic skills, honed during her undergraduate studies at SUNY Brockport, to investigate and tell the story. Following completion of the film, I recall how passionately she spoke about the film, the process, and all she had learned during the making of the film. In her thesis, she writes:
“The struggle I endured during this journey was stressful at times but enlightening all the time. I discovered “me” inside the filmmaking process. Additionally I discovered that student film crews are not dependable and that I had to discover my own niche in the filmmaking community.
During my research a lot of things came to light, even the unexpected, which filled this journey with adventurous and educational endeavors. Even Betty was a little complicated at times. She came through for me when I thought all was lost. Former Mayor William Johnson also came through as a primary source and a strong mentor to push me forward when I thought about giving up.”
I recall how proud, excited and delighted Taunja was when she was awarded her MFA. She had pinned her dreams on a star and reached it.
We never collaborated on a project, yet I suspect she wasn’t the easiest filmmaker to work with. Many passionate people with a driving vision aren’t.
Life was not easy for her. I know she struggled to achieve all she did. And in spite of that struggle, she loved her work and all that she was able to accomplish.
Taunja had a great laugh, a wonderful smile, a sparkle in her spirit and a unique perspective on life.
Taunja, I am sorry that you were not here longer, to share more stories with us, but I’m glad you left the legacy you did. Rest in Peace, our friend, and know that you will be missed.
by Carol White Llewellyn