Jeff Theman

image by Greg Murray Photography
Jeff Theman’s Social Media:

Born on July 28, 1977 in the southwest suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, I was a creative person the moment I was able to pick up a pencil and put it to paper. Through the years I dabbled in many forms of self-expression – from drawing and painting, to poetry and other forms of creative writing, and later photography and the creative outlet I spend most of my last decade+ on – filmmaking…documentary film to be more specific. 

Besides the value I set on the arts, the other main constant throughout my existence has been my love for dogs and other animals. My family has had dogs most of my life; I was born into a home with a dog. Even as a young child I believed animals had complex emotions and suffered in many of the same ways that humans do, despite an old narrative some adults attempted to pass on me that animals were here for us. Even still, I had a long way to go before I could say I lived a life of compassion towards all animals, as some still ended up on my dinner plate.

In my mid-20s I wrote a screenplay titled “kArmA” – a story about friendship, love and addiction, based on a period in my life I had just completed, with the intention of completing it and then turning those 110 typewritten pages into a feature film. When I couldn’t keep a cast and crew together long enough to begin production…frustrated, I turned my attention to something I could control from start to finish – Enter documentary film.

At some point after the New Year in 2007, I began researching all forms of animal cruelty in an effort to narrow down a subject matter to base my 1st documentary project on. On the morning of April 25 (2007), I woke up and did my normal routine of turning the television to ESPN SportsCenter while I prepared my breakfast, when breaking news came across that authorities were raiding NFL star quarterback, Michael Vick, at his rural Virginia home where they discovered dozens of dogs possibly used in a dogfighting operation. I took that as a sign, and immediately started an anti-dogfighting film with an emphasis on the victims – the dogs.

In September 2007, I formally established my Cleveland-based video production company – River Fire Films, LLC, out of my one bedroom Lakewood (Ohio) apartment, to pursue aspirations of becoming a documentary filmmaker.

River Fire Films Social Media:

While researching dogfighting and setting up interviews with experts in their appropriate fields, I stumbled upon a law I had never previously heard about called breed specific legislation (BSL), which targeted the ownership of dogs -specifically “pit bulls”, by either restricting or prohibiting them from within a municipality, which is how I learned my home state of Ohio had statewide BSL since 1987 with a laundry list of restrictions, including mandatory liability insurance. I decided I was going to include a chapter on BSL in this documentary, because the two issues (dogfighting and BSL) seemed synonymous with dogs labeled “pit bull”.

A little over one year after beginning this film, I returned from my first trip conducting interviews with national animal welfare organizations, and began reaching out to area dog rescues who helped “pit bull” dogs. Cleveland-based – For the Love of Pits (FTLOP), was the only organization (at the time) in northeast Ohio whose sole mission was to specifically rescue “these” dogs, so I sent an inquiry email in hopes they could accommodate an interview request, get footage of the foster dogs in their care, and hopefully some guidance deciphering credible information since I was still very new to the issues.

After multiple phone conversations with the founder – Shana Klein, I visited her home on May 15th (2008), which is where he met Preston. I fell hard for him immediately, and before I left that day, I spontaneously blurted out that I was going to adopt him. Easier said than done…

Just four days later, Lakewood City Council proposed a ban on “pit bulls”, which delayed my ability to bring Preston home. Once the ban was passed later in the summer, I searched for rental properties outside of Lakewood where he and I would be welcomed and shifted my focus from dogfighting to breed discrimination, titling the project – “Guilty Til Proven Innocent“.

Since the entire state of Ohio had a restriction of ownership of “pit bulls”, many cities in Ohio upped the ante like Lakewood and also had bans, so this was no easy task. On top of that, insurance companies discriminated against “pit bull” dogs, which made it difficult to be in compliance with the state law, and most rental properties also declined “pit bulls” as well.

Nearly five months after meeting Preston, on October 4, 2008, I was finally able to officially adopt and bring him home.

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