Jonathan Cipiti makes his directorial debut with “The Dating Project.” (courtesy Jonathan Cipiti)
More than one-half of Americans are single. How those people find dates and look for love will be explored in a new documentary, showing in over 600 theaters nationwide and made by a Fayetteville resident.
His name is Jonathan Cipiti, and this 26-year old’s directorial debut, “The Dating Project,” has been shown in film festivals across the nation. Last September, the film won the Audience Choice award at the Downtown Film Festival in Los Angeles.
“It was really an honor to win that award,” said Cipiti, who is “semi-based” out of L.A., but lives in Fayetteville and grew up in Cazenovia. “Winning that award was just affirmation that people want to talk about this.”
The documentary follows five singles, ages 18 to 40, as they search for authentic relationships in today’s technologically-advancing dating world.
“It seems that a lot of people want a relationship but don’t feel the right to say they want a relationship,” said Cipiti. “I think it really was a film all about communication and why is it so hard to connect with somebody on a deeper level.”
The goal of this film, he said, is to ultimately “start a conversation.”
“This is powerful stuff”
Cipiti originally aspired to make “blockbuster films,” but was inspired by documentary filmmaking when he was mistakenly brought to Peru at the age of 19.
Because the man who hired him thought he was 26 years old at the time, Cipiti accidently joined the film crew in Peru to work on a short film about women entrepreneurs and their mission to interact with the global market.
“I never wanted to work in documentary,” said Cipiti. “But when I saw that a piece of work that I could do could help people, I was like, ‘This is powerful stuff.’ Once I did it, I was hooked.”
While Cipiti has previously worked on six films, ranging from supervising special effects to writing for projects like “The Drop Box” and “Irreplaceable,” this film is especially important to Cipiti, as it is the first one he has directed.
“It’s a huge blessing,” said Cipiti, who has worked on the project for nearly three-and-a-half years. “I feel relieved, because documentaries are never done, they’re just finished.”
The idea for the project originated when Cipiti’s producers, Megan Harrington and Catherine Sample, both single women in their late 20s, were wondering why they couldn’t “find anyone” in L.A., despite the vibrant, social atmosphere.
“And not only that, but everyone seems to think dating’s horrible,” said Cipiti. From there, they decided to make a movie about just that — dating. But further than that, they wanted to make a conversation about communication.
The documentary’s main subject and expert is Boston College philosophy professor Kerry Cronin, who gave her students a daunting extra credit assignment — to go on a date. Not only just a date, but a “level one” date, which has to be in person, during the daytime, under $10, under 90 minutes, no drugs or alcohol involved and no physical interaction, said Cipiti.
“The hook-up culture is really what’s huge in college campuses,” said Cipiti, who filmed on the Boston College campus for two weeks, following around two particular student subjects.
Cronin found the same was prevalent among her students, and was interested in the vulnerability experienced with dating compared to “hooking up,” which is generally defined as casual sexual activity.
“Essentially, what she was saying was, ‘Why don’t you just get to know someone?’” said Cipiti. “Her students would come up to her and say, ‘Professor Cronin, this is terrifying. I can’t do this.’” When she would ask students why it was considered more vulnerable to open up to someone for a night rather than ask them out for coffee, students realized how “ridiculous” it seemed.
“People are being vulnerable, but I don’t think they see it that way,” said Cipiti. “When someone asks how you’re truly doing, you don’t even know how to respond. We don’t even ask ourselves. So what she’s saying is if you can learn to do this, it won’t matter if somebody says no, because you’ll know who you are.”
While filming on campus one day, Cipiti and the crew noticed a student from Professor Cronin’s class running across the quad. After asking him what had happened, he said he had just asked a girl out on a date.
“He was like, ‘I have so much adrenaline, that was the best experience ever,’” said Cipiti. “Really, what it was, was that he was validated. Somebody said, yes. And that’s a big deal.”
Listening, understanding and knowing one’s self-worth are not just key components in dating successfully however, they also apply to having any relationship successfully.
“I really hope that people realize they have a sense of self-worth,” said Cipiti. “I feel like we separate dating from the other relationships in our life.”
“Dating shouldn’t be scary,” he added. “It’s intimidating, and that’s good. Professor Cronin said that dating is tough, but it’s ok to break up, because dating should only work once. So, don’t be afraid to break up, and don’t be afraid for it to not work out.”
Produced by Paulist Productions, a Catholic production company, the team joined the project later in the process as a partner after they were inspired by the film’s message.
“They got the heart of what we were doing,” said Cipiti. “They’re a really good partner.”
And some happy endings continue past the film credits. One of the film’s producers, Catherine, who initially questioned her single status at the start of the documentary, ended up meeting her husband by the end of it. Today, they have a baby together.
Cipiti’s next documentary is quite different from a look at dating in the modern age.
“This one is really exciting,” he said about his upcoming documentary about the 2015 Charleston church shooting.
The shooting occurred when white supremacist Dylann Roof entered one of the oldest African American churches in Charleston, S.C., and opened fire, killing nine people. Two days after the shooting, families went to the bond hearing, looked him in the eyes and said, “We forgive you.” There were no riots in Charleston after the massacre, igniting inspiration behind the documentary project’s concept.
“It was so crazy to work on,” said Cipiti. “It’s one of the most powerful stories I’ve ever heard.”
While a release date is to be determined, the documentary is finished and the crew is working on distribution.
Cipiti has also recently finished working on an episodic series in Japan based around “Silence,” a Japanese novel by Shusaku Endo.
“It was life-changing, because I’ve never been to an eastern country,” he said.
Cipiti grew up in Cazenovia after moving from California at the age of five. After graduating from Cazenovia High School, Cipiti moved back to California in 2010 then moved back to Central New York two years ago — this time to Fayetteville.
“I love it out here, because a documentary usually doesn’t happen in L.A. or New York; it’s usually in random places,” said Cipiti. “It’s nice to be in a place that’s a lot slower to come back to and edit. I love it up here.”
Cipiti said “Working smart” has become a personal motto. For his first directing job, Cipiti said he made “a lot of mistakes,” but translated them into valuable learning experiences.
“I’m so grateful for this film because I was really young when I started it, so I was really eager just to do a good job,” he said. “I think I learned really quickly the importance of not just hard work, but good work.”
“The Dating Game” will be shown at Regal Cinemas in Destiny USA and Shoppingtown Mall starting April 17. A trailer for Cipiti’s film can be found here: vimeo.com/201465998.
Reporter for the Eagle Bulletin and Cazenovia Republican.
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