Nothing like a professional conference to throw oneself back into the working world. Good news: we showed the film! Bad news: conferences are boring. Ok, conferences in and of themselves aren’t necessarily boring. But I did find this conference to be particularly lacking. In fairness though the talk I really wanted to see I couldn’t, because Chicago managed to send our luggage somewhere else. I don’t know what trip our bags took and I hope they had a good view and some drinks wherever they landed, but it meant we had to rescue our bags instead of attend the conference when the bags did decide to arrive.
More conference shenanigans also meant small turnout to our film. But on the bright side those who did attend liked it a great deal and are interested in bringing it to their schools. That’s our big hope. Then on the serendipity front, we talked to a potential distributor who is interested and may very well take the film on. Hooray! Much celebrating all the way around. It is not to say that taking care of our film hasn’t been near and dear to me, but I am also more than ready to let someone else run with it. I have learned the very hard way that self directing,producing, and distributing is a seriously full time job, one that very nearly pulled all the hair out of my head. (By the way, for any film hopefuls out there – you better love what you’re doing because the chances of getting paid are pretty slim unless you manage to sneak in a few explosions or big name celebrities. Am I bitter? Naw…chafing a bit, probably.)
So conference talks can be less than stimulating, but a positive of conferences is that they can be places to catch up with people you’ve not seen in a long time. This was one such conference, and it included seeing some people who were in the film who have now gone on to fabulous things like doctoral programs and such. But I hasten to add, it is very odd for me to meet someone and be greeted with, “Oh, I’ve heard all about you! How’s it going with such and such…” And I’m left thinking, what was your name? Why do you know anything about me? It isn’t necessarily that I find such encounters offensive; actually they are somewhat flattering in that you’ve-actually-heard-of-me kind of way, but also a bit disconcerting in that what-prompted-all-of-you-to-sit-around-and-talk-about-me kind of way.
I am not used to being noticed, and especially not used to being noticed also being a good thing. I suspect I’ll never get used to it. I suspect though that actually is a good thing, to not be used to it. I’m not interested in being that self-conscious. Or aware. Blissfully unaware I say. Blissfully unaware and unconscious, even better.
My head cold is making me ramble. Time for tea with honey and a hot bath. And some mindless Netflix binging watching. And chocolate. Oh, did I mention how much I miss having extensive, soul-searching, process-oriented existential breakthrough conversations with people who also love having such conversations? My goodness we would’ve all been great patrons of small, dark, eastern-european pre-revolution bars stocked with only a small crate of bourbon to serve us pathetic angst-ridden neo-poets. Such people I met up with at the conference, and was reminded of the small gap left in my life after they left…as I relayed to them, it is not possible to fill such a hole with replacements. You just live hoping for the next encounter. So here’s to another vow to make such encounters more frequent than less. (And to finding many excuses to take the piss out of each other as often as possible.)
I write only because I have a sense that it has been a long time since I’ve posted. I’m hoping writing will help restore some sense of normality to my brain.
As I started the above paragraph, I was interuppted before I could write the third sentance. Welcome to my current reality, the post-move turmoil of nothing-ever-completely-finished-because-something-else-gets-in-the-way. This is the world of moving, apparently. I was not prepared for just how different everything would be, and how little frame of reference I would have for addressing that difference.
This is not to say difference has been “bad.” More, I thought I’d have a little more to fall back on. Aside from the toil of travelling across the country with a bus load of people and animals, aside from not knowing when we’d be able to move in, aside from not knowing if an when the utilities would be turned on, aside from not knowing when the kids could start school, aside from not knowing my own phone number, and aside from not knowing where the gas or grocery store was…wait, what was I going to say?
Oh yeah, that was the beginning. But it wasalso expected. You know life is going to be sideways for a while and there’s not much you can do about that except ride the wave. But what we didn’t see coming was how nothing would really work in our new place, because it is nothing like our old place. Or how hard it would be to get back into work because my computer wouldn’t work. Or how difficult it is to maintain your attention when things start breaking one by one, necessitating finding repair people or buying new stuff in a place where you don’t know where the people are or where to get the new stuff from. Or how your health would go to crap because cooking is so far down the list of things you need to get done. Let’s not even get at needing childcare, auto repair, or finding someone who can cut hair.
Oddly enough none of that is a complaint. It’s just a comment on the illusion of control we try to maintain when our life leaps out of our hands. So I grab at the little places where I can remember some idea of who I am, or moreso what I am capable of – and find those places are very little. For example, even with my new job, it is not like I have never done this job – but I’ve never done it here, in this context, and in this way. And I find myself asking, will I be able to do it like this? Did it only work before because of where I was and what I learned there? What if I have nothing unique to offer this place and simply become another fixture on the wall?
Yes, another existential wandering. Now there’s a surprise.
I don’t have answers yet, and I am sure over time “this too shall pass”…I think I know that I’m not a total schmuck but I do find that in a nutshell, I don’t know who I am “to be” yet.
So back to the start of this post; I write because in between my mind shutting down from fatigue, I can occasionally put together words and make sentances. (And I’ve already raised my hand and gotten people stirred up in meetings. Jesus you’d think I could wait a day or two before stirring the pot.) It offers a strange comfort. Now if I can put together a matching outfit tomorrow – well that will be an accomplsihment indeed.
It is probably an oddity that, coming up on almost 3 years of blogging about a social justice-themed film, I am just now putting out the question of “what is social justice.” I teach it, study it, practice it…yet I find myself back to the place of asking that question. Will I answer it here? Unlikely. But as is my habit, I write here to try to work this stuff out in my head…
Social justice gets a bad rap. When it is talked about on the news, it is usually paired with words like, “communist” and “progressives” and the newly-made bad word, “liberals.” Detractors try to associate it with anarchy and chaos, government overthrow, and the dismantling of society.
So in fairness, that’s because when social justice work is happening, it usually is calling out forms of oppression that occur at larger levels, such as in law, institution, policy, government. Social justice will look at educational systems, business practices, social practices, and just about any other existing system and how it serves to empower and disempower. Social justice attempts to address systemic injustice that results in the oppression of historically marginalized groups; thus it tends to focus on people who have experienced racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and so on. When social justice activism works, you get things like marriage equality, which is a pretty big upheaval of the status quo.
So yes, social justice workers do tend to be loud rabble rousers who get people riled up. That’s because when you’re pointing out that someone is benefiting at the expense and exploitation of others, that person usually gets kinda pissed off. And they work really hard to shut you up, especially by trying to make you look like the crazy one doing all the shouting.
However, social justice workers can get pretty confused about their purpose too, which leads me to why I’m writing this today.
In my particular field, I’ve recently seen lots of work connected to social justice. What exactly is social justice? I think that question has a varied answer right now. It has referred to altering systems and the status quo to promote equal access to resources. I’ve also seen it connected to the process of dismantling harmful expressions of privilege and promoting privilege for those historically denied that status. Most closely associated with my own work, social justice emphasizes the reclaiming of voice that was robbed from communities rendered impotent from colonizing processes.
That’s a lot of big words. I think a simple point of view is that social justice attempts to correct social injustice. It requires acknowledgment that injustice does and will occur at systemic levels – social, political, governmental…injustice can be executed through law, policy, social discourse, normalizing practices, interpersonal dynamics…In other words, injustice can be enacted by a single individual, but it is also enacted by many individuals making up a larger social sphere. The injustice occurs because the acts undertaken maintain power for certain groups while diminishing the power of others. And this is not based on a merit criteria, but rather arbitrary distinctions like race, gender, class status, etc.
Really, I don’t think it’s that hard to understand. My students will kill me for saying that, because it’s one thing to understand the concept and another to see it live, and then even more to recognize that we are all affected by this process.
So the real question is “how do we do social justice?” That’s a much harder question, one that I’m struggling to find the answer to.
Here’s a snapshot of recent events in my life: Led a workshop for counseling students/new professionals about a process of reclaiming identity from oppression. Those participants created work that demonstrates their preferred identity and we held a gallery exhibit showcasing the work. Our student social justice organization has decided to become a regional organization to include people from many different fields and backgrounds. I’m working to change a professional organization from the inside out so it better reflects social justice principles. I recently went to Ferguson, MO to show the film and launch a project for declaring personal truths. Oh and I have that other job, the one where I teach class, interact with students, and occasionally supervise and counsel people. Am I “doing” social justice? There’s a big part of me (likely my inner rebellious punk that sits lazily in a chair flipping everyone the bird) that just isn’t interested in proving whether or not my work is work. So perhaps the real question for me is, does the work that I do accomplish what I hope it accomplishes?
Is there any one way to do social justice? Is it just one big act that gets lots of attention or is it lots of little acts? Does it matter if everyone follows your lead or if the few you’re affecting have experienced a change for the better? How do you do social justice in a way where it doesn’t inadvertently rob the voice of those you’re trying to support? When does social justice tip over back to just another form of colonization? How do you make sure the focus of social justice is on people and communities who need and want that support, instead of on the need for the worker to become the great “savior” of those people? Who “owns” social justice?
I don’t think those are easy questions nor do I have ready answers. I do think that whatever the method, we have to make sure that the people we think we are serving actually want what we’re offering, and that their voice is front and center in the process. Does what I’m attempting to do fit the context? How do decisions get made? Am I invited or intruding? Does it matter if it’s me who is required to get the job done, or is what I’m doing something that the community can take, learn from, and then build upon to suit their changing needs?
I used to shout a lot. Now I realize sometimes you need to shout, and sometimes you can do something else. Sometimes you can even do nothing. So while I’m still figuring out the answers to these questions, I’ll keep experimenting, I’ll get it wrong and maybe I’ll get something right. I’ve complained in the past that I feel like my generation of social justice workers is having to re-invent the wheel. It’s a complaint rooted in the desire to have someone help, have someone guide us. But now it seems it isn’t really a complaint; perhaps it is actually stating the obvious. We’re not “re-inventing” but inventing, because the context of today is different than it was 20, 40, 100 years ago. Racism still exists, but it looks and acts different and we have grown up getting to know it in a way that our ancestors did and didn’t. So we are finding our way, trying to learn from the past while plotting our own course. Maybe the real trick is to accept we don’t have all the answers and likely won’t.
So what is social justice? Still working on that one…
How 24 hours can change a great many things…We recently attended our field’s national conference originally thinking our film would NOT be shown. Ok so truthfully the sequence of events went something like, “we want to show your film,” “we can’t show your film but X will,” “we want to show your film,” “wait we can’t show your film,” “oh maybe we can get X and Y and Z together and show your film,” Oh wait no we can’t,” “you’re on your own,” “good luck,” OH WAIT yes we can show your film after all.” And that last message arrived literally one day before we left for the conference.
This means I spent several hours on a long drive (at least for once a long drive was worth it) editing a new teaser for the film since we didn’t have as much time as we would’ve needed to show the entire film. We’ve needed a teaser anyway, something to get audiences interested but longer than a trailer. We basically cut in the first 20 minutes, removed the titles, and set it up so that hopefully audiences will want to know what happens next.
Our showing occurred at the very end of a very long day, one that began first thing with event after event. I commented later to JB how I find this new phase of my career oddly distressing. I had once imagined how cool it would be to become the person who was “in demand” at a professional event, meaning the person giving all the talks or being a part of all the meetings, or whatever. As a student I remember walking around a conference and seeing all the “stars,” the people who had written the textbooks, the keynote speakers, the people in the suits who were in our eyes so important. I didn’t ever think I would become someone in that position, and now I find my career entering a phase where I am more in the role of those I once stared at. Note – I will in no way call myself a celebrity, and if I ever do someone needs to hit me with a brick very swiftly. The thought of being that position was never tied to popularity, but rather the personal question of would I ever have that much to contribute?
(Since entering the field, I have learned that professional celebrity is about as significant as say, red carpet celebrity – meaning it’s great for a show but rarely worth the price of admission. Those who seem to express their celebrity status on a regular basis are about as interesting as, perhaps, an albatross.)
So I was there, doing a lot, saying a lot, not getting much of a break. And it capped with showing the new teaser – granted to a small audience but an audience nonetheless! They were intrigued, they asked questions, they gave a ton of feedback – and they wanted to get copies of the full version. Success! We continue to find that people are drawn in and want to see more – we just need to keep making these efforts. This film is slowly getting a life and perhaps one of these days it will really fly all by itself.
Oh and I sold some copies. Yep now in that funny area where you sell your passion. Honestly I think people in my field always wrestle with the financial side of things; we tend to think we should always be broke in the name of changing humanity. Granted the money I’m “making” from these sales isn’t really making much of anything – I’m still leagues away from anything approaching “profit.” But there is a strange legitimacy that gets conveyed when someone is willing to spend money on what you’ve made, even if that money is a small amount. And if I ever could get in a position to make a living at doing this…well that could be a game-changer indeed.
I’ve got that swirl in my brain again that says I need to sit and write. And not the kind of writing I do for journals and such, but the kind where the thoughts have to swish around, percolate, blurb up into something I don’t know yet.
Sleepless night, partly because my daughter got hit with a stomach bug (and our sink, floors, trash cans, bed linens got “hit” as well as a result), partly because I’ve been talking film with people and my head is ablaze. I meant to post a couple weeks ago after the MillionsMarchTX rally on January 17. But I sat on it, and as usual that was a mistake. Writers know what I’m talking about – if you sit on your words too long, they either disappear forever or they force their way into your life without mercy. This time the words are staging a revolt in my head, now fueled by new knowledge, insights, and potentials.
So I met a filmmaker, a bona-fide director who actually does this sort of thing for a living and makes a paycheck. He was gracious enough to watch the film and offer some honest feedback. And it was certainly honest. Bottom line: good concept, not so great delivery. I’ll spare the details, but this feedback was useful in that I could at least get some insight into why we continue to live in film festival rejection land. The few times I have been able to get feedback from festivals, the reviewers say they love the film, but it doesn’t make the cut. Now I might have some answers about why it doesn’t make the cut – there are technical problems, and these problems are not a surprise to me because, well, we really did have technical problems. So when trying to break into a space where the technicals matter, well, we’re being told to take our finger painting back home and come back when we learn how to use oils.
I don’t know if I’ll ever learn how to use oils, by the way. I also don’t know if I want to. The one thing I have learned about myself as a director is that I don’t want to know these things so I can do it all myself. I want to know enough so I can communicate, so I can translate, my ideas to a group of people who have to actualize those ideas. What I really want is to have a group of people who are really good at what they do, who are bound by a simple common purpose, who can be set loose to attack that vision in the ways they see fit. It’s funny, because I just realized this is also how I’ve come to teach students. I have no interest in telling students exactly what to say or do when they are learning how to counsel/interview people. I don’t want puppets. What I want is to motivate them to a point where they try things they didn’t think to try, where they step out of their comfort zone, where they begin to move creatively and let go of the need for rigid rules. I have to find the way to get them to see themselves one step beyond where they stand currently, recognize that when they take that step I’m still going to be there, and then let them figure out how to actually take that step.
That’s the part where I have to be the teacher for that student, because no two students are the same, and they don’t move the same ways or step in the same directions. But once they start stepping, it’s like being in a marathon. They just GO.
So we sorta stumbled into that in Parrhesia, and I’ve come to realize if I ever do this again that’s what I want, to give people lots of creative space to go crazy. But also set the parameter, make the frame, reel it in if someone decides to shoot off into space…And I think it’s that common goal that matters, that I would need to make sure that everyone gets what the purpose is. Since I’ll never be making a Godzilla (in spite of my kids’ desires), and I’ll probably only be able to engage in a film project that results from pure passion, it means getting people on board who resonate with that passion. That magically occurred with Parrhesia – so can we be intentional about that? I guess we’ll have to be.
As an aside – this film talk also had me seeing stars, the kind that accompanies things like awards and fame and all that bullshit. Damn if my little ego didn’t want to get seduced by that sort of thing again. So I had my moment of imagining red carpet recognition – and now I’m remembering that we never did this to get awards, we did this first to see if it could be done, and then finished it because we realized we could never live with it not being finished. So much faith in, well us really, meant we could not let everyone else down by not getting this thing done and shown. It wasn’t just that my work had to get out there, but the vulnerabilities and sacrifices of everyone in that film had to be shared. It demands an audience, even if it is a small audience; it is work that must be witnessed. In that sense I don’t care about ratings, I don’t care if it’s “marketable.” We created a portrait of the people in that film, a portrait that shows something between who they are and who they want to be – the “me and the not me”, as I’ve heard it described, and that has done something for all 8 of our cast. It has shown them the power and presence of their voice and they have seen that other people are affected by their lives. They are becoming the people they weren’t certain they could be prior to this. I never saw any of that coming but if I make a film again that is exactly what the goal will be, because I can’t really imagine making a film for any other reason. Isn’t that really what social justice is about? To voice that which has been ignored or silenced?
Aw heck, I’m a narrative therapist. Story isn’t a noun, it’s a verb. And that concept is definitely worth an award.
Feeling inspired, humbled, reminded, motivated…went to see Selma last night with a group of people at the Alamo Draft House. We made this an informal get-together for members of our student group, and it was secretly my treat to myself after a long day of training. I’ve been wanting to see this one for a while and have gotten very interested in the behind-the-scenes story of what it took to get it made. So first off I have to say, excellent job to cast and crew, you are all heroes. Clearly David Oyelowo is superb (he WAS King) but all the performances are top notch. You always know everything is working in a film when you’re not thinking about the film itself at all, but rather getting swiftly carried along by the current of the story and not ever wanting to look away. You must know what comes next. You want to feel everything it throws at you. And when it ends, you have to sit in that theater for a moment because you aren’t entirely certain where you are, because a moment ago you were sure you were living in that land, that story.
I wasn’t alive when the events depicted in Selma took place. I came along 5 years after MLK was murdered. So I didn’t watch it to recall my experience, as was the case with some who attended with me (and their transport was a different, yet similarly significant, journey) – I watched to witness the story that was to be told, a story I had heard pieces about or read about but didn’t really know, at least not in the ways you know something when you lived through it.
And Witness it we did…I couldn’t believe how much it felt like we were in that screen, caught up in those events. Bravo Ms DuVernay, brilliant job. I don’t know how she created that illusion like you were sitting in the audience as King gave a sermon, or that you were on the bridge when the tear gas was shot in the crowd…but it felt like you were sitting in the middle of it all, and I felt such a range of emotions from anger to surprise to joy to grief. But what I wasn’t expecting was how it also transported me simultaneously to the present day – to the stories of Michael Brown, Eric Garner…the attempts occurring now to restrict the vote, the attitudes displayed now towards people trying to make a change. I felt it all because it was like a mirror of what is right now, and the words being spoken in those speeches were the same words we’re trying to get out there to people everywhere today. It is still relevant, it is still happening.
During our post-film discussion, someone mentioned how a few people have criticized the portrayal of LBJ. In truth I don’t know how “accurate” some of that is, but it is very clear the film is not meant to be a documentary. It uses its medium very well to convey a story, a very poignant story that also includes people who really existed and who really did some of the things shown on that screen. What I thought was interesting though is that while I don’t have any historical record of what two very powerful White men in the 60’s actually said about Dr. King and the events in Selma, I do not doubt that the style of conversation portrayed was on target. Why? Because the words used were genuine, and because people still sit around today referring to people of color through racial slurs, “good ol’ boy” assumptions, and power expectations. Again, the film wasn’t just a reflection of 1965, but a window into today.
It’s ironic that I spent the morning offering a diversity training to a local organization. They wanted to see Parrhesia, and also learn about community engagement. My co-director and I jumped at the chance to do this since it’s all pointing in directions we want to be heading towards. We’ve been preparing for a while now and we were going to have the floor for the majority of the day.
Overall it was a very good experience. While everyone was similar in that they worked for the common goals of the organization, there was a great deal of difference regarding job titles, functions, experiences, and so on. So it had some of the “general audience” effect when watching the film. We had an anonymous feedback form this time and responses were highly favorable (3-4 stars!!) with the only complaints being to include people who come from experiences not focused on in this film (this is a criticism I have no problem with at all – sequel, anyone??). Many also freely offered that they really liked the film and we had a very exciting conversation afterwards, followed by our training material. I’ll admit we were quite nervous, because the training part was newer for us. The work itself wasn’t new, but trying to show it in a way to a group of professionals was the new part. It was like teaching my diversity class, a typically 15 week course, in about 2 hours. But everyone seemed up to the task.
I’m not going to go into details about the conversations had, but some really good stuff came out of it. I found myself going through my usual inner monologue of “trust the process” when the fear would creep up on me…and sure enough we would press through the awkward moments and get to some very useful, productive places. I know they were left with much to think about. John and I had to work together in a way which was new, but even with the bumps we figured it out pretty well, I think. The topic was a little bit more my territory than his, which is different, so there was the experience of figuring out in the moment what we each lend to facilitating the overall experience. Interesting and useful, and I think we both learned some things.
-an aside – I still hate powerpoint.
Anyway, I’ll say it does feel a little weird to go from that to Selma in the evening…not weird in a bad way but it means my head and subsequently my heart was filled to the brim with social justice. Getting into the spaces to teach social justice also makes me face my own inner workings and experience related to it – it does become a lot to manage but it is part of doing the work, in my opinion. I have to keep an eye on me while I’m keeping an eye on them. So I also notice all my vulnerabilities, mistakes, successes, turning points…and brought all that into the theater with me. (Oh yeah, did I also mention I showed my film to a group of people and it still scares the crap out of me?)
After all that I think that’s where we get to the humbling and motivating part…what I thought was masterful about Oyelowo’s performance was how he brought the human to the image of King. You saw and felt the fear, uncertainty, pain, and even humiliation while he was engaging in these remarkably brave and terrifying acts. Now I will not in any way attempt to say that I work like MLK, because I don’t. But I could connect with that experience, the moment of pulling together all your strength to do something courageous because it must be done, all the while feeling scared, doubtful, and alone. Because that’s the truth of it, courage and fear exist simultaneously, and we can’t ever pretend they don’t live together. To ignore one will destroy the potential of the other.
I also noticed….that while MLK was certainly the point of the spear, he was not the only person pushing the machine (mixed metaphor, whatever). There were many, all putting themselves out there. We can’t forget that. I think oppression tries to convince us that we are alone, but the truth is we are not. So if they can do it, so can I….
I just had to say that. I’d do that put-the-first-dollar-in-the-frame thing but it’s a virtual dollar since the sale was on the internet. So this post is the closest I’ll get to marking the first official “sale” of the film. No, we are not rolling in dough, nor do I expect we will ever, but it does give just a little piece of feeling “legitimate.”
…I don’t have. While I am slowly coming to accept my tendency to blindly jump into large frying pans (and that usually works out really well, truthfully), some things still make me shake down to my core. We showed the film to our first general audience – meaning an audience that isn’t composed of a university audience, or professionals who already have some level of investment in the work being presented. We were invited to show, which is different from just a group of people gathered from anywhere, but I suppose it would be similar to people choosing to say, buy a ticket for your film instead of someone else’s. Except our film was free. But I digress…
The San Gabriel Unitarian Universalist Church hosted the event, inviting other congregations and individuals living in the area. Our cast member, Vicki, spearheaded this effort, so we did attract an audience that had some possible connection to what was going on. I’ll grant that. But it definitely got us closer to the experience of having a “cold” audience, in that no one there really knew me, or cared one way or the other about what I think, and so on. In truth, I think I prefer it that way. Don’t get me wrong, I love praise, but really that’s an ego thing; I want to hear from those who aren’t attached to me.
(Of course I say no one knew me, but as it turned out there was someone who did – someone I actually went to high school with was in that audience. Now that makes for an extremely small world. Very weird. But not in a bad way, just a “yikes, you might remember what I looked like when I was a freshman” kind of way.)
So when the lights went down and the film started to play, I was hit with a wave of panic as it sunk in that this was indeed a general audience. And I’d invited my kids to watch the film for the first time. And I had friends there. And strangers. And a pretty good sized audience. And Christ what will they think, I’m in a church. Now I’m sweating. I can’t breathe.
A minute later I settled down, sat with my kids, answered their funny yet pithy questions (e.g. “mama, if she trained that lady how could they have fired her?” and “why would someone say those kinds of words?”) and watched the audience. Here again I noticed this interesting phenomenon where the audience began to interact with the film – gasps, laughs in the right places, shaking heads, even tears. This fascinates me. This is where I watch the art interact with the audience, and it transforms in the process. It is no longer a static “thing”, a picture on a wall, but a movement, something affected by the watcher and a watcher affected by the art. Performance, performer, observer, all become somehow intermingled and a new thing emerges.
I realize the abstraction of what I’m trying to describe, but I think it becomes more clear afterwards when the panel comes on and the lights go up. This time we had Mandi, Richard, Lance, and Vicki on our panel – that was a first for Mandi and Richard, and I learned Richard’s first true viewing of the complete film. Each panel is different and each panel session is different. I’m finding I still don’t know what to expect, but I am enjoying this panel piece. The discussions coming out of there are usually more than I can hope for. This time there was an interest in behind the scenes, why did we make this, how did we make this, and what has happened since. And our panel just went to town with those questions, and I also watched the panelists express themselves in ways that I just couldn’t have imagined 2 years ago.
That gets to the pieces again we just never saw coming, how this film experience could affect the lives of all of us involved. We thought it was just a movie, but it has become a statement, a reflection of our position to be more than we were, a symbol of our stands and our voices. And now that we know how to use those voices, we just aren’t shutting up. Now that is super cool.
If you’ve managed to read this blog post-to-post (which I’m sure you haven’t), or if you know me really well (which you might) then it’s no surprise to hear I’m a bit of the fan-girl. It’s a somewhat embarrassing thing to admit since it always conjures up the image of a pre-teen wearing ridiculous clothes sporting bizarre hair while possessing way too much knowledge of things like Doctor Who and The Breakfast Club (yes, dating myself there, and the answer is Tom Baker, Original Series, and David Tennant, New Series. Whovians know what the question is).
Engaging in fan activities is called “fangirling,” or “fanboy-ing” although in thinking about that verb I realized it needs a gender neutral derivative. What would you call that, “fanning?” Unfortunately that word conjures up images of Scarlet O’Hara lounging on a porch sipping bitter lemonade, fanning herself lazily as the plantation burns while slaves run in the background. So that doesn’t really work. But it’s all I’ve got at the moment, so in an effort to support free gender expression, I’ll use “fan-ing” to represent engagement in all things Fan.
Why am I bothering to write about this in my film blog? Because as the film is moving on and we have to occupy ourselves with things like marketing (the bane of my existence), I’m realizing my blog needs to evolve. And as this film has already shown me, my life connected to social justice involves much more than just putting images on celluloid. Or digital, in our case.
I’ve found myself throughout this whole film process, two years in total so far, asking myself some fairly serious questions. I’ve written before that I had no idea what I was getting into. That hasn’t really changed, as every step is a new part of the adventure and I still have way too much to learn. What I’ve had the greatest trouble trying to reconcile though were two opposing experiences: 1) the growing doubts and disillusionment regarding my initial career choice and 2) the growing fascination and exhilaration revealed in making a film.
I’m a professor by employment and a counselor by trade. Academia has shown me that it isn’t nearly as “academic” as I would’ve hoped. And my travels with social justice have revealed the extent to which our palaces of higher learning still have a long way to go in terms of embracing and enacting equality, multiculturalism, and true justice. Old-boy networks are very real, glass ceilings are ever-present, and a good amount of teaching seems to be largely for the professor’s benefit instead of the student’s. I admit to being naively idealistic when I stepped into teaching, but seriously, the state of higher-ed in the USA has become decidedly un-educational. Emphasis on nonsense like “learning outcomes”, attempts to quantify the learning process has created a machine that focuses on producing widgets instead of promoting the kind of environment where learners truly make discoveries. Institutions quickly become measures of social control and conformity, the very antithesis of creativity and independent thought.
(Of course this kind of critique is expected to fly from me since I’ve just spent a week at a Narrative Therapy conference in Adelaide, Australia – narrative Mecca if you will. Foucault is alive and well and I become decidedly anti-establishment in such an environment. Thrilling.)
So for the last couple years I’ve been asking myself, “do I really want to be doing this?” And as my burnout has grown, I’ve had difficulty seeing the difference between job frustration and job fed-up-edness, do I want to ditch the whole thing and start over. This is in light of the fact that making a film turned out to be one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. Ironically the interest in trying a film came in light of these job frustrations. Making a film is outside the box of “scholarship” for my field as well as my job. So essentially, the film doesn’t “count” in the world of my work, yet I did it anyway, almost to say, “screw the system, I’ll produce the kind of scholarship that is meaningful to me.” So in my act of rebellion, I also discovered that making a film was hugely invigorating. Even all the problems experienced were enjoyable to figure out. I also went on a long personal journey in the process, rediscovering my love of writing, creative expression, and art. Areas that had been once relegated to “hobby only” status could now come out and be center stage. And this left me with the new question, “is this what I should’ve been doing all along?”
Scary to think about, now in my 40’s and considering a serious career shift. Did I really want to jump both feet into a whole new arena, or was this my frustration and angst speaking? I could remember all the times in my life prior when I wanted a career in the arts, and was steered away for many reasons I won’t go into here. So was this shift me finally coming home? Or was it a massive attempt to step away from my desperation?
And in all this I lost love for teaching, love for counseling (did I ever love that one to begin with?) and kept most of this largely to myself. I suppose some would call that an error, but I also intuitively knew this sort of thing wouldn’t get solved in a simple conversation or one-word answer. I would just have to let myself float along in this unknown place and see what came out of it.
I realize at this moment I’m writing decidedly past-tense. That suggests I now, at long last, have an answer. Alas, I don’t have a true answer. But I think at this point I have gravitated more towards something that makes some meaning out of this angst.
Flash back to “Fan-ing.” Aside from all the goofy fandom gossips, sightings, endless plot-discussions, and canon-arguing, fan-ing also provides this strange benefit to me: I find stories that resonate with my own. There’s the obvious example: shows with characters or plot lines that I connect with. But the unexpected is when I find other things related to those shows, like stories about actors, directors, or other parts of production, that also resonate with my own experiences. Ok, so I’m not just a fangirl, I’m also a cinophile, and a knowledge junkie, and I have a brain that was made to play trivial pursuit, because I read and watch way too many things and know way too many arguably useless pieces of information. Anyway…
Take for instance, a behind-the-scenes story related to a director who was also an actor who made a pretty controversial film (I’ll leave out names to save myself a little embarrassment, because fan-ing still makes me feel like I’m 12). The director’s back story included feeling doubtful about remaining an actor (thus trying a hand at directing), going way out on a limb when the chance presented itself (the film’s topic), and eventually through that process having moments that eventually lead the director to rediscover what had made acting a passion in the first place. The similar theme is probably obvious. I’ve thought about that story for a long time now, and I have been wishing for my own moments to appear to steer me somewhere…largely because swimming in a bog is still swimming in a bog, and that gets old and tiresome after a while. I’ve had a few glimpses of moments along the way (some of which I wrote about in past posts) but have been waiting for something with a little more permanence.
I’d decided what I needed to do was talk to people who’ve been doing this much longer than I have, to find out if I’m alone in the sort of fears and concerns I experience or is this “normal.” I’ve found it’s not a conversation people like to have. But forward to my recent Narrative conference experience, a place where there really isn’t much that is off-topic or out of bounds. So I talked. And continued to feel somewhat exasperated.
And eventually I started thinking, “well, that didn’t really work,” until one conversation, one where I wasn’t really trying to talk about this sort of thing, but somehow stumbled into this territory and my new Iranian-Australian friend presented me with a very innocent question. I don’t even think he realized the innocence of his question, and maybe that’s what made it stand out. It was a simple, “if your inspiration for the film comes from teaching, and you want to make more films, then…” and I don’t remember what followed because I was smiling at the question and at myself, because it was a very pleasant “DUH” moment. I hadn’t ever tied those ideas together before, at least not in that way, and suddenly I had myself a moment.
Like I said, it’s not an “answer”…but it is a moment. Three cheers for fan-ing and my career-counseling friend.
Trying to compose a post when I’m a) a little drunk and b) a lot jetlagged and c) completely exhausted is probably not a great idea. And yet, I’m up for the challenge, because I’m not totally sure what will come out in this post as a result. So here goes…
Showed the film today at the International Narrative Therapy conference in Adelaide, Australia. As usual the nerves popped up but excited as well. Of course techincal difficulties arose again as the sound didn’t work at first, but we got there in the end. Really didn’t know what to expect as this is our first international audience. Would they find the film relevant to them? Would it be seen as too “USA-centric?” Would someone try to convince us that only the USA had such problems? These were things I wondered before it started.
Everything went so fast that unfortunately I’ve not heard in depth about people’s reactions, but I have had some approach to at least let us know they enjoyed it. The cool thing this time: standing in the back of the room I watched the audience (as has become my habit). I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to “watch” the film this time, instead of have my head occupied with all the concerns of showing the film. But I also saw the audience interacting with the film – the first moment when someone gasped at what was said, when another person had an audible response to a cast member talking, when the audience as a group laughed or held their breath…the film had caught them, reeled them in and they were interacting with it. So while I didn’t get to have a longer conversation about the film and the audience reactions, it was clear they were being carried along in a wave generated by the film. Our film could actually have that effect on an audience!
And again I found myself falling in love with the characters all over again…and now that nearly everyone has moved on I was also feeling the tears come up because I miss everyone so much. I feel their absence because all that is left are the spaces they once occupied. While it is true I continue to meet very interesting and neat people through my work, I can still feel these absences because you just can’t truly replace any of these people I came to know through the film. The space, even if similar with someone new, is still never that same space again, because the person I inhabited it with isn’t there to make it “our space.”
Perhaps this is why I finished my night with wine and chocolate. Cheers, all. Good onya.