Janet Grillo is a critically acclaimed filmmaker, Emmy Award winning producer, and former studio executive. Most recently, Janet directed JACK OF THE RED HEARTS, winning the Jury Prize at the 2015 inaugural BENTONVILLE FILM FESTIVAL (co-founded by Geena Davis to promote diverse filmmakers), the inaugural NYWIFT/Ravenal Foundation Grant, and screened at 10 film festivals in US and abroad, receiving a total of 11 awards. In 2016, the film opened in AMC theaters across the country and aired to a million viewers on LIFETIME TV. Critics called it “raw, real and emotionally genuine.” In 2017, Janet served as a Cultural Diplomat with the US Department of State’s American Film Showcase, screening JOTRH and lecturing on screenplay structure and raising a child with Autism, at universities, therapy centers and parent organizations in Vietnam and Armenia.
In 2010, Janet wrote/directed/produced the feature film FLY AWAY. It premiered in Dramatic Competition at SXSW in 2011, where it was nominated for Best Feature, and won the Special Jury Award for Best Performance at ARIZONA FILM FESTIVAL. It opened to rave reviews in NYTIMES, LA TIMES, NY OBSERVER, HUFFINGTON POST, VARIETY and HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. Later that year, LA TIMES sited it as one of four independent films “most overlooked for an Oscar nomination.” In 2008, Janet won an Emmy as Executive Producer of HBO’s AUTISM: THE MUSICAL. While an executive at NEW LINE, she oversaw the cult classic HOUSE PARTY film series, and launched the careers of many esteemed filmmakers. Janet is an Arts Professor at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Kanbar Institute of Film and Television. She is the mother of a son on the Autism Spectrum, and was on the Board of CURE AUTISM NOW Foundation, before it merged with Autism Speaks.
What do I do best?
Wow, hard question to answer! My wise mother once told me that if you don’t even notice what you do well, because it comes to you so naturally that it doesn’t occur to you as anything special in the first place, but others consistently praise your ability to do it…that’s what you do best. And should do ‘for a living.’ So, for me, that would be storytelling…fantasizing…making things up and sharing what I make up with others in a way that engages their attention, inspires and motivates them.
What makes me the best version of myself?
I’m inherently resilient. Not sure why or how – perhaps it’s my innate temperament that’s in my genetic code. But a friend once described me as a ‘weeblo;’ one of those toys you put on the dashboard of a car. You can push it down and it pops right back up. That also seques into optimism, and my inclination to perceive and believe in potential. I prefer to invest my time and energy into what might happen, versus what has or is happening. Which has a downside, as well. Can lead to delusion.
What are my aspirations?
I aspire to tell stories (films/tv shows) that explore and share what it means to be human. To touch hearts, build bridges of inclusion and understand, and make a positive contribution to the public mind. I also aspire to inspire the students I teach to do the same – particularly women and people of color, whose voices have been far too long excluded from our social concourse.
My Biggest Success?
Helping my now adult child with Autism to fulfill his greatest potential.
My Most Challenging Moment?
The year my 3 year-old son was diagnosed with Autism.
Never place a period where God has placed a comma.
My Favorite People/Role Models?
Eleanor Roosevelt. Full stop. I’ve read tomes about her, and find her combination of social privilege, personal tragedy/emotional deprivation, compassion and strategic determination to be a wellspring of inspiration. She models what it looks like to rise to the challenge of one’s highest nature. She manifested integrity.
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
I had the privilege to travel to Vietnam last year, with the US State Department Cultural Diplomatic program, AMERICAN FILM SHOWCASE, to share my feature film, JACK OF THE RED HEARTS, with parents and providers of people with Autism. It was a life-changing/life-shaping experience. I’d love to return to see more of the country. It was particularly profound to experience the forgiving embrace of Vietnamese people for us Americans, who did so much to senselessly destroy their country. They are resilient, positive and brave.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
100 pure, organic Argan oil! Great facial moisturizer, and good for hair as well. Inexpensive and effective and smells good. Also love fresh lilacs. Their scent, color and appearance is a great argument for the existence of God.
My Current Passions?
I am passionate about teaching my students at NYU Tisch School of the Arts Undergraduate Film & Television Program. It’s a virtual circle; they inspire, engage, challenge, stimulate, broaden and delight me. I learn as I teach, have become much better at the craft aspects of filmmaking as I instruct those skills. Plus, they are playful and inventive and we have tons of fun every day. It’s a joyful privilege to ‘pay it forward.’