Ruth E. Walker.
Earlier this month, I attended a cottage-country film festival in the Village of Haliburton, catching the last three of five films on offer. There were no red carpets, no star-studded galas. And the sole “paparazzo” was equipped with a nifty cell phone. Nonetheless, it was a life-changing moment for this writer. I gained a deeper understanding of three vital pieces of any creative enterprise.
But first some background
Doc(k) Day is a documentary film festival, organized by THOSE OTHER MOVIES Haliburton, a non-profit organization run by volunteers. It’s part of the Film Circuit, a division of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and has brought some fabulous festival films to the Haliburton Highlands.
I love TIFF and attend one screening a year in Toronto with my friend Heidi. A film festival with Heidi is often an adventure, so much so that I blogged about it on my own website. There was a bit less excitement at Doc(k) Day, but no less a moving experience.
The three documentaries I managed to attend were excellent. Directed by Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais, and created and narrated by Lawrence Gunther, What Lies Below is a remarkable film about the interconnectedness of the world’s waterways and how so many of us are blind to what is happening to an ecosystem we can’t see. All the more moving when you learn that documentarian Gunther has been blind since childhood.
Garry Beitel’s In Pursuit of Peace explores the world of peacekeeping in the 21st century and how Canadians are still filling that role despite our political shift to combatants instead of peacekeepers. It’s an excellent, and often daunting, glimpse into the challenges of conflict resolution in our fractured world. Nonetheless, I was left feeling optimistic.
Perspective. Perception. Persistence.
Cameraperson from Kirsten Johnson, renowned documentary filmmaker and cinematographer (Citizenfour, Fahrenheit 9/11) was in a class unto its own. Breaking boundaries of documentary film-making, Johnson gives the audience access to a kind of filmic memoir. From her personal catalogue of outtakes, side projects and shot set-ups, she marries highly personal film sequences with scenes in post-Serbian-war Bosnia, a day-in-the-life of a Nigerian midwife, a Brooklyn boxing match and several other fascinating snippets of people, places and events.
At first, we never rest long in any one place, and it is a challenge to make connections between the disparate scenes. But eventually, the struggle lessens as the camera’s eye guides us to understanding. We return to familiar scenes and people, hear their words, learn their fears, comprehend their circumstances. And the energy of the whole begins to take shape.
At least, it did for me. Judging by the audience reception, the film moved many others to new perspectives. But we had to slow down our process. We needed to allow our perception to make room for different, for strange, for fresh. And we had to be persistent in giving the film time to take us there.
A writer can learn from film
Here is where the writer in me was doing an internal dance for joy. What if I took that same approach with the book I plan to start writing this summer? Slow down the process. Make room for different ways to explore and take in the research. Allow “strange and fresh” room to take hold of my imagination. Be persistent in this slow-cooking process of inspiration. Let the shape of the thing that I will eventually write find its own way into my mind.
I’m used to chasing after my ideas. To following my characters on their journeys. To setting out with a question as my launch pad. Instead, I’m going to let the question come to me. Maybe it won’t even be a question. Maybe it will be something I’ll perceive for the first time. Some new perspective on an old idea. Or a persistent voice whispering in my ear.
Disparate scenes from the past might mingle with today. Like Kirsten Johnson, maybe I’ll find a new way of storytelling. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, let me know if a film has ever spoken to you as a writer the way Cameraperson did for me.
DID YOU KNOW
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