Journey of a Gem: Interview with ‘Sharing the Rough’ Documentary Film Director Orin Mazzoni

By Erika Winters

'Sharing the Rough' Documentary Film

The documentary film Sharing the Rough, which is set to premiere at the WorldFest Houston International Film Festival on April 17, traces the journey of a rough gemstone as it travels from a mine in East Africa to a U.S. gemstone cutter, a renowned jewelry designer, and ultimately to a jewelry collector as an exquisite finished piece.

We had the pleasure of attending a private screening of Sharing the Rough at the Tucson Gem Show, where we were not only struck by the extraordinary efforts of all involved but by the passion that drives the miners to unearth the gemstones that we enjoy and wear. We sat down with director Orin Mazzoni to talk about his motivation to make Sharing the Rough and how this film offers an unprecedented window into the miners’ lives, struggles, and triumphs.

Raised in what is now a third-generation family jewelry business, Mazzoni worked for a over a decade appraising colored gemstone and diamond jewelry. The director then changed course and followed another passion, film. Sharing the Rough brings together Mazzoni’s unique talents in both the jewelry and film industries.

Mazzoni’s passion is palpable in Sharing the Rough. We would be remiss not to mention the emotional impact this film had on the audience at the Tucson private screening. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. But Sharing the Rough is not a tale of sorrow. It’s an honest depiction of the miners’ work, drive, and tenacity to mine gems after years of digging to no avail. And when they finally find that glint of green in the depths of a mine? We are right there with them and ready to share.

Sharing the Rough was completely crowd funded and shot with a small crew. The film follows award-winning gemstone cutter Roger Dery as he explores mines in Tanzania and Kenya looking for “the one” gem that will be set into a jewelry creation by renowned designer Mark Schneider. The film also features jewelry writer and founder of, Monica Stephenson, who wrote a blog series on the making of the film.

Watch the Sharing the Rough trailer to see more.

Interview with Orin Mazzoni

EW: In Sharing the Rough, you take us on a journey from gemstone mines in East Africa to a final finished jewelry piece created for one of the gems unearthed in the film. What spurred this documentary, and why is it important for audiences to see and understand this trail from mine to finished jewel?

Orin Mazzoni: A glass of wine with my good friends Roger and Ginger Dery… I had known them for years growing up in the jewelry business, and when I switched careers and went to San Francisco to pursue a degree in film, we would meet for dinner on their trips to the West Coast. One night just on a whim we talked about having me join them on their next trip to East Africa. Roger had been there a dozen or more times at that point, and I thought it would be an amazing adventure. Then we started talking about the lives of the miners and the process of buying a gemstone directly from the brokers, and I was sold. This was going to be cool.

My entire life I had been surrounded by colored gems, yet I had no idea about this world. One thing led to another, and the next thing I know I’m back stateside with over 60 hours of test footage. It was amazing to see a part of life that I never knew about, even growing up in an 80-year-old jewelry business where we pride ourselves on ethics, knowledge, and truly caring for our customers like family.

To go back in 2014 with a professional film crew and the knowledge I had obtained was extraordinary. I think it’s important that people see a different side to the world of gems and jewelry. A world where we most often see the downside, which is undeniably valid. Jewelry is art, it’s passion, it’s love, and that’s what I saw, and that’s what I hope people will see. I am not naïve to the corrupt side of the industry, but I would challenge anyone to show me a world of art and beauty where that does not exist. I hope people can enjoy this documentary and feel inspired. And that’s all I can ask.

Roger Dery examines rough green garnets in the film. Image courtesy of Sharing the Rough.
Roger Dery examines rough green garnets in the film. Image courtesy of Sharing the Rough.

EW: You grew up in the family jewelry business and have a deep understanding of the collaborative nature of jewelry creation. Do you draw parallels from your experience in jewelry to the collaborative efforts in making films?

Orin Mazzoni: Without a doubt there are more similarities than I even thought possible. The business is the same, and I’m sure just like any business or industry it’s about relationships, helping others achieve their goals, teaching, knowledge, and integrity. I was lucky, I grew up in a family who prides themselves on these things, and I transfer that over to my life in making movies. I also knew that starting a new profession later in life would have its challenges. For the lack of film knowledge I had than those younger than me, I had a decade of “producing” experience behind me in the jewelry business. And that is something you can’t learn in a class. Directing is about managing people, understanding their skills, and relating the goals of the film…just like managing a jewelry store. A happy crew will result in a better film, or more jewelry sales, depending on which crew you’re talking about.

Miners, cast, and crew emerge from a mine. Image courtesy of Sharing the Rough.
Miners, cast, and crew emerge from a mine. Image courtesy of Sharing the Rough.

EW: What were some of your most surprising moments in the process of filming Sharing the Rough?

Orin Mazzoni: Oh there were so many, but my favorite has to be the cast. Actually, it was the entire organic process of the story, and I really can’t stress that enough. My call sheets for each day were pretty much breakfast meeting at 8:00 a.m., “rogue mining,” and dinner at 6:00 p.m. Originally the story was going to be more focused on the “gem hunter.” We were in Africa shooting for 15 days plus two travel days, and I had broken it up into two teams. Team one was Roger and the crew, and each day’s schedule called for rogue mining and the hunt for the gemstone.

When group two arrived seven days later, we would see what happened and how they would fit into the story. However, my goal was to have the film already shot before they arrived. I had spoken to everyone on the phone, but had never met them in person, and I couldn’t just assume that they would fit into the story. Well as the film gods would have it, the second team added so much that it became a completely different story, so much more powerful than I had ever anticipated. The genuine and honest emotions that came from people like Dave McConnell, Charlie Carmona, Monica Stephenson, June Stahl, and Danuta Kuc, still floor me. And I hope when people see the film they enjoy what these people have to say without questioning why they are there. I didn’t want to waste time telling that story, even though most film makers would consider that film suicide. During the editing process I just didn’t think it was important. You have to assume your audience is smart, and the story is king. Heck, Charlie Carmona just happened to be in Arusha while we were filming and decided to join us for a few days. They all play their part so perfectly, and that had nothing to do with me.

Filming the miners. Image courtesy of Sharing the Rough.
Filming the miners. Image courtesy of Sharing the Rough.

EW: As we watched the film in Tucson, we were especially struck by the miners’ passion for gemstones, which we seldom see in the mainstream media’s portrayal of independent miners. How did meeting the miners change your own perceptions of their work?

Orin Mazzoni: In 2011 I saw that this was not an industry of hate or violence and that the people were passionate about what they were doing. Unfortunately, there have been some bad things that have happened like the terrible incident with Campbell Bridges in 2009. I just recently met their family and you cannot help but feel the tragedy. That’s a story all in its own, a beautiful one that one day should be told. But this is still an emerging economy. Both Kenya and Tanzania have only had their independence since the 1960s. They are still trying to find their way, and I could truly see that the miners, whatever stage they were at in their career, were providing for themselves and their families through an honest day’s work, just like anyone trying to grow and make better lives for themselves and their families. There are some bad seeds, but there’s a lot of good too, and that’s what was important for me to show. The mine managers mention that you wouldn’t recognize the miners if you saw them in the city without being covered in dirt and soot. What I saw was the passion they had for their work, and in all honesty, they were just having a lot of fun. Maybe that was for the camera, I’ll never know. I surely didn’t ask them to “act” in any certain way, but I captured a lot of smiles, I’ll tell you that.

Gemstone miners take a moment to pose for a still from Sharing the Rough.
Gemstone miners take a moment to pose for a still from Sharing the Rough. Image courtesy of Sharing the Rough.

EW: The film features a special gemstone, a garnet, that is chosen to be cut by Roger Dery and then set into a design by Mark Schneider. How did you all choose “the one” gem to go into the final jewelry piece?

Orin Mazzoni: Absolute luck. We had a budget we could spend on a very significant stone if we needed to, but that was not a necessity. My co-producer Lesli Thom and I had come up with the name “Sharing the Rough” long before we left for Africa. And although I mentioned it was unscripted, there was still a plan, and I had set up several options for us along the way. Whether it be a small gemstone, a suite for a necklace and earrings, or if I was upset with Roger I could’ve had him cut 100 stones for a small gemstone bracelet–joking of course–but only about being upset with Roger. The bracelet was a possibility. But in the end it wasn’t about the size or value of the gem, it was about the hands that touched it, the hands that brought something out of the ground and into a wearable piece of art.

49.08-carat green grossular garnet from Sharing the Rough
“The One” • 49.08-carat green grossular garnet from Sharing the Rough

EW: What are some of your goals for Sharing the Rough regarding the miners lives, livelihoods, and community?

Orin Mazzoni: I owe a debt of gratitude to everyone that has become part of the STR family. I would imagine that anyone making a documentary film would aspire for some type of change or action to take place based on what they have created. STR has already spurred so many things and the film hasn’t even had its premiere yet. One of my favorite quotes in the film is from World Bank gemology consultant Charles Carmona, where he states: “One day there will be an East African brand of jewelry and gemstones, and the entire world will know about it.” I’m hoping that the Devon Foundation, which the film proudly sponsors and supports, continues to grow and train more cutters in Tanzania.

I’ve heard that one of the cast members is already helping with the school in Kitarini, Tanzania, and wants to bring that to another level involving gem cutting as well. There are less than 500 gem cutters in East Africa with a need for 10,000. Right now they are exporting their resources to other countries at around five to ten cents on the dollar. Hopefully this film will continue to create awareness and help these charitable organizations to grow. Another cast member is currently supporting the East African gem community by purchasing and supplying the gem rough to jewelry designers here in the United States, and that could be just the start. I’m so very proud of the STR family, which continues to grow the more the film is seen. I hope that 10 years from now there is a major economic shift and Mr. Carmona is correct. That would be something.

School children, Kitarini, Tanzania. Image courtesy of Sharing the Rough.
School children, Kitarini, Tanzania. Image courtesy of Sharing the Rough.

EW: Will you have a personal jewelry piece created from any of the gemstones featured in the film?

Orin Mazzoni: Call it serendipitous, but back when I worked for Orin Jewelers we would have gem shows where Roger would come to the store and fill up a few cases with all of the gems he had purchased and cut. He had this beautiful untreated checkerboard cushion cut that was a sort of brown with a slight bit of rose color, and I loved the color. So I purchased the gem and designed a very simple yet elegant piece with Mark Schneider. I decided that it was something I wanted to keep as a collector’s piece, having no idea that one day I would combine the talent of these two artists in a film. So that piece will be traveling around the festivals with me for people from the cast and crew to wear and enjoy.

As for this trip, there are four “sister” gems that we purchased with the 50 carat rough garnet that is featured in the film. They came as a package deal, as the miners don’t want to part with their best piece without selling others along with it–it’s called a parcel. A really interesting part of the film reveals a conversation with Roger negotiating for the parcel, and we ended up with the “hero” stone and 4 others all coming from the same pocket 150 meters down in a cave. Mark Schneider has 3 of the gems, and he plans to keep them in his private collection. But he’s an artist and just like any I doubt he would say no if someone wanted to create a piece of jewelry with one. I own the other gem, and maybe I’ll have that with me at the festivals to show. 😉 Mind you, they are nowhere near the size or value of the large one, but they came from the same deposit as our “hero” gem which makes them pretty special!

Sharing the Rough has just started its festival tour. The documentary will be shown at the following U.S. film festivals this month:

April 17: WorldFest Houston International Film Festival

April 22: USA Film Festival, Dallas, TX

April 29 and April 30: Newport Beach Film Festival, Newport Beach, CA

Please check the Sharing the Rough Facebook page for festival updates and locations near you.

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