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January 27, 2022

An Unexpected Friendship Leads to a Magical Disney Documentary

By Benjamin Pola

The simple act of asking a question can sometimes lead to the most rewarding experiences and opportunities. That is exactly what happened when the up-and-coming visual artist and author Sophie Kipner seized the opportunity to ask world renowned photographer Baron Wolman to collaborate. A brave, simple question led to an unexpected mentorship turned friendship and what transpired was nothing short of amazing. And it’s all captured in the documentary short Sophie & the Baron, directed by Alexandria Jackson ’16 and edited by Lauren Brown ‘15.

For those unfamiliar with Wolman’s work, he served as Rolling Stone Magazine’s first Chief Photographer when the publication first launched in 1967. Many of the iconic images that we associate with certain artists and celebrities today, such as Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Gracia, James Brown, Janis Joplin and BB King, are from Wolman’s expressive contributions to the magazine.  

Sophie & The Baron is a joyful, feel-good story about two artists at very different stages of their careers, collaborating and validating each other’s talents and creative visions. This unlikely duo shows the magic that can arise from believing in yourself and being open to new opportunities. Sophie and Baron give us a glimpse into their creative process and artistic journeys, as the film aims to inspire and encourage viewers to be brave in their creative pursuits. The lesson is that you never know what is waiting for you on the other side of a proposal. It just may be a life changing “Yes!”

Sophie Kipner, a USC alum, is an abstract portrait artist and writer from Topanga, California. In true Trojan fashion she connected to Jackson '16 and Brown ‘15, both graduates of the SCA Film and Television Production MFA Program. Jackson said that working with Brown, and Kipner and Wolman, drove home one of the biggest lessons instilled in SCA students: “Collaboration is key and you must learn to collaborate effectively with other artists across all fields of entertainment.” Together these creators merged the art forms of photography, contemporary art and film to create a remarkable documentary that captures the true essence and unimaginable results that are produced when artists collaborate across varying mediums. With Courteney Cox and Joanna Natasegara as producers on the project, it was an all-women production team and the result is a spectacular film.

Sophie & the Baron debuted at the 2021 South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW), then continued to garner interest and acclaim on the festival circuit. The major pay off was in December of 2021, when Ayo Davis, President of Disney Branded Television acquired the film under the company’s newly developed Disney Original Documentary banner. Later this year, Sophie & the Baron will also help launch Disney Branded Television’s newest genre of content on Disney+ as its first original documentary.

Sophie & The Baron is also now shortlisted for the 2022 Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject. 

Unfortunately, Baron Wolman died from ALS before the release of the film, but director Alexandria Jackson shared that he was heavily involved to the very end of this project and was fortunate enough to be able to approve and screen the final cut before his passing. Wolman, she says, referred to Sophie & the Baron as “the bookend to his life as a photographer and friend.” 

Check out a snippet of that life in the official trailer of Sophie & the Baron, HERE