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.