Nerves of Steel…

…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…

SGUUFThe 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.

Be cool
Be cool

Shopping Spree

first public screening

I’m slightly addicted to Modcloth. No, they didn’t pay me to say that. But I have this strange compulsion to buy dresses from them, partly because they have so many cute ones, and partly because they show women who look like me wearing those dresses. So I’ve decided to buy myself not just one, but two dresses.

Why would I be writing about dresses on my film blog…Because we just had our first public screening of the film and it went GREAT. My god I was an angst-ridden ball of jelly goo leading up to the event, but now it’s over and I can finally exhale. You’d think I’d get used to showing this after the test screenings, but really I don’t think I’ll ever be truly relaxed showing this thing.

audienceWe had about 100 people, which granted in my fantasies I’ve got audiences of thousands but in reality, 100-120 is a good start. We were in a theatre that sat 400, so the place did not look empty and there was a discussion after the film. The cool part, again, was hearing people in the audience resonate with stories from the film, and ask questions, and say that the film affected them. I still expect to hear someone say, “what a load of crap,” so I still brace for impact throughout the whole discussion piece. Perhaps there are those who think that, but if so they haven’t said it yet.

Given the bashing my ego has taken after getting round after round of “no we don’t want to show your film at our festival” type news, hearing people say the film touched them really helps me bounce back a little. Ok, I’m reminded, this wasn’t a bad idea after all. Watching the people in the film again, and at the panel discussion afterwards, I see again what inspired me to make the film in the first place. (And it’s true! Everyone at this panel did at some point approach me privately to ask, “is it ok for me to say ___ in class” and every time the answer was, “yes.” And now look! You’re all in a film and you don’t need me to tell you to talk at all!)

after showingI just wish I didn’t get soooo worked up prior to showing it. But I do suspect that isn’t really going to go away. The truth is, it’s not the same as teaching or giving a speech. There’s still that aspect of this is my art, and therefore a part of me, that is on display. And yes, I cringe thinking someone is going to hurl rotten food at it, the rejections do feel personal, and darn it yes I like it better when someone says they liked it. As open-minded as I want to be, and as much as I will create room for someone to express very different opinions from mine, my childish selfish part wants to hear that someone liked it and thought it was pretty.

At the risk of getting philosophical, it has made me wonder about the personal versus the public in the creation of art. If I take photography, since that’s the only other place where I get the slightest bit artsy, I take dozens of photos just for my own sake of taking them. And some are ok and some are crap, but even some of the crap ones I like, and all my photos help me become a better photographer. But there are a few I choose to share, even if it’s just with a few people, and something changes in the act of sharing it. It isn’t just a personal, private act anymore, and somehow the art itself is transformed because it is being shared with an audience, and then the audience reacts and develops a relationship with it as well. Or I suppose maybe that is the hope, that the audience creates a relationship with it. The worst reaction I could think of would be for someone to find my work to be, well, boring. At least if they’re mad at it, worked up enough to share that dislike or speak against it, then the art has done something to inspire them, it has provoked a reaction or movement and a relationship is created. But if the work just blends into the wallpaper, then it hasn’t really done anything, and no one notices at all.

I suppose that’s the real fear then, less that someone tells me it’s ugly, more that someone will say nothing at all because there is nothing to be said. “What film? I blinked. Did something happen?”

Damn art. Fuck it. I’m going to buy another dress.

yup, that’s my co-director…

All Good Things…


Stealing from an over-used line, all good things must come to an end. The last couple of weeks have been all about endings. We’ve had our private cast and crew screening party, I’ve had my last class meetings for the summer, and the graduation celebrations have been in full swing. We should talk about how endings also mark the beginning of new things, the next adventure, future endeavors…

Yeah but what a load of crap. At least that’s how I feel at the moment. Here in the US we have a great tendency to ignore the reality and pain of the moment, particularly associated with the process of saying goodbye. And that is exactly where I find myself, in the process of saying goodbye to a great many as well as this most recent phase of my life.

The cast party marked an end and a reunion, as some of our film associates have already graduated and are moving on to things like getting jobs. So it was a chance to see nearly everyone one more time, especially as my co-director and I are now pretty set on the idea that we too will be moving on. This combination makes for a pretty emotional time, since it is a celebration of a good two years’ worth of work, and also a send off to many we have come to know and love.

The greatest unforeseen in the journey of making this film was the creation of the community around it. I realize it sounds incredibly naive to say this, but I really had no idea everyone would come to play such a large part in this experience. Sure, we had plenty of people working hard to get the thing made, but what I didn’t expect was how we would join together, get to know each other in these rather remarkable ways. I came to understand these people in a very different way than what is usually accessible to me as a teacher. I saw things about them that were unexpected and really quite wondrous to find – who knew we had so many artists, musicians, dancers, writers, and basically all around inventive people in our midst? And all drawn together because we cared about a very simple idea – sharing stories of anti-oppression. This experience was OUR stand, and it unified and paved the way for people to form connections that were nourishing and exciting.

And the side-effect: I like getting to know students this way. One of the great myths of our higher educational system is that the wise teacher stands at the front of the class and the unknowing students soaks up all that knowledge like a sponge. It suggests that the teacher has a ton of knowledge and the student has nothing. Where’s the part where the student takes knowledge and then, let’s see, creates ideas from it? Changes it? Is transformed by it? Or even – wait for it – contributes their own knowledge? These are the parts that our current system, focused on ridiculous notions like “student learning outcomes” and “accountability assessments,” beats out of education. Uniformity of education leads to conformity of thought, and ultimately the death of creativity.

Enough of that ranting (this is also the end result of too much administrative paperwork) – the plus side came in my shift in perspective, in realizing all the students I meet have some thing about them that is worth getting to know. It doesn’t matter if one is a “straight-A” student or writes great papers, that person’s particular talent might not be readily visible but if I take a moment to try to see it, understand it, then I allow myself to meet someone who is truly remarkable. And I get to learn a lot of really cool stuff in that process.

Silver linings…because the truth is I’m still saying goodbye to lots and lots of people who mean a great deal to me. I’m saying goodbye to cast and crew, students I’ve known over the last few years, and to my counseling “dream team” all within the same 6 month period. I think that’s on one of those top 10 stressors to not do all at the same time list thingys. I keep getting the question, “are you coming to graduation,” to which the answer is “no,” because for one of the first times ever I just don’t have it in me to keep saying goodbye over and over and over again. I suppose in the narrative tradition, I should work on “re-membering,” but my little rebel at the moment wants to say, “fuck that.” Goodbye’s are sad and painful and you know exactly what you’ve lost once it is gone, and while I can sit in that space I don’t have to wallow in it and force myself to confront these bad feelings.

They’re not really bad anyway. It’s just the way it goes. The bottom line is, my little community was just that, MY community. It was one of the few places I had where I also belonged. And I will miss it. I will miss them.

cast and crew party
Best Group Ever