Archive for the ‘Ktismatics’ category

You’re Next!

19 March 2009

My daughter’s 10th grade class in American History is studying the Cold War and the 50s. Guess what movie they’re watching and discussing?


Doing My Civic Duty

12 March 2009

Once I start writing posts about jury duty I know I’ve lost focus. It was kind of an interesting process though. About fifty of us randomly-selected residents of Boulder County watched the video about why we were there and how through the process of voir dire we might or might not be selected to sit on a jury. Afterward a clipboard-toting functionary entered our holding tank and read off the names of half of the people in the room, who followed her into the corridor. The rest of us waited another half hour or so before we too were escorted out of the waiting area and into one of the courtrooms.

We filed into the three rows reserved for those who watch the trial. The judge sat directly opposite and facing us. Facing the judge and to our right was a table at which were seated the defense attorney and the defendant; to our left sat the D.A. and someone who was never explicitly identified — presumably it was the complainant in the case. The judge informed us that this would be a misdemeanor criminal case in which the defendant was charged with “reckless endangerment,” allegedly having driving his pickup truck (with attached snowplow blade) aggressively at the complainant. We were also informed that this was a domestic dispute between the reckless driver (man) and his target (woman).

After the preliminary explanation the judge read off twelve names, mine among them. We were instructed to fill the seats in the jurors’ box, situated on the far left side of the room. Cordially the judge asked us about our brushes with the law, both as victims and as alleged perpetrators. It seemed she was interested primarily in whether we felt the system had treated us fairly, or whether our experiences had left us with persistent biases. The young guys on either side of me claimed that, as a result of their prior encounters, they felt themselves predisposed to doubt the credibility of the police. Both of these potential jurors were removed for cause and replaced with two of the remaining selectees still seated in the audience section of the courtroom. One woman had been involved in a domestic disturbance; another had been raped; both felt biased against the male defendant and for that cause were replaced. The judge went out of her way to assure the dismissed jurors that the dismissal wasn’t their fault, that maybe this just wasn’t the right trial for them, that maybe they’d have better luck next time — perhaps an overly optimistic assessment of people’s motives.

Next each of us answered a series of questions about ourselves posted on the wall next to the jurors’ box. As I recall the questions were: age, how long we’d lived in the county, education and academic degrees, job, spouse’s and children’s jobs, parents’ jobs, whether we had friends or relatives who work in criminal justice, hobbies, what we read, what we listen to on the radio, what we watch on television. Afterward the two attorneys asked some of us to elaborate on some of our answers. Of particular interest was the extent of our familiarity with the justice system. One of the candidate jurors has a son who is a D.A. in Pennsylvania; the D.A. in this case wanted to know whether this man would hold him to a higher standard because of his understanding of the job requirements. Because I had a doctorate in psychology, the defense attorney wanted to know if I’d ever counseled people (yes) and whether my clients had ever been involved in domestic violence situations (they had).

At the end of the voir dire process each attorney is obliged to dismiss three potential jurors. The two attorneys consulted first with their clients, then with each other, compiling the list of six dismissals. My name was the first one called. The judge assured us rejects that we had done nothing wrong, better luck next time, and we were free to go.

I did feel disappointed to have been rejected. I’ve never sat on a jury before, and probably because of my tainted background in psychology I never will get that opportunity in the future.


10 March 2009

So I was on my afternoon run, thinking about what to do with this blog, when I came upon another guy running toward me. There’s nothing unusual about that of course, except that as I approached this other runner he waved, turned around, and began running in my direction. Then I saw that we were both running toward another guy who was standing in the middle of the street. This third guy was holding a videocamera, apparently filming both of us running. It didn’t take me long to realize that the cameraman was watching this other running guy, and that I just happened to be running onto a movie location. The other runner stopped, and the third guy stopped filming. “Sorry for getting in the way,” I said. “That’s okay,” the filmmaker replied, “you’re good background.” I asked if I’d get paid when the movie came out, but what I really thought was that this other running guy was a local politician or business tycoon who was demonstrating his fitness in some sort of autobiographical puff piece.

“No, it’s PT,” the now-stopped runner said. “Ah, so,” I remarked to the cameraman, “you’re evaluating his stride, seeing if he’s favoring a leg or something.” He nodded and gestured over his right shoulder: “I offer free video assessments, right here in this building.”  So I guess after this little videotaped running session the physical therapist takes his potential client back to the office, he sticks the video into a TV set, and while playing it back to the potential client he points out little tics and glitches that indicate some sort of muscular or skeletal imbalance. Then the PT proposes a therapy plan to correct the problem. This is a very competitive town for runners, so I’m sure he’d also help people train if that’s what they want.

I was curious, so I asked the PT-trainer how he gets people to show up at his office for this free evaluation. “I’ve evaluated thousands of runners over the years,” he said; “I’m a professional.” “That’s great. So,” I asked him, “would you say that you have a passion for your work?” “Well,” he replied, “I love being alive — how’s that?”

As I continued on with my run, I wondered what it would be like to videotape people responding to questions about their passions, their sense of calling and purpose, what they think of themselves and other people, etc., then play back the video to them. I’d pause the video to point out not just interesting verbal responses to the questions but also little tics and hesitations, unusual inflections and sudden gestures, incongruous affects and expressions. Then I’d use these observations as diagnostic indicators of where a person is off stride or off balance or underdeveloped. This isn’t a particularly remarkable procedure for certain kinds of psychotherapist to adopt, of course. But I do like the video playback idea.

We Don’t Need No Thought Control

3 March 2009

A week ago I put up a video describing an act of suppression, then at the behest of someone who is presumably trying to make things right I suppressed my own video. I’ve since confirmed what I already suspected, namely that this suppression is systemic, affecting not just a few individuals but an entire community institution. That institution is the government-administered secondary school, or what we in America call the public high school.

Suppose a kid is enrolled in a creative writing class here in Colorado and hands in a short story that involves sexual assault or parental abuse or suicide. The teacher is obligated by law to ask the kid if there’s an element of truth to the story:  have you been assaulted; are you being abused; are you considering suicide? Teachers who have been in the system for awhile explicitly warn their students in advance: if you address these topics, I will have to investigate. The implicit message to the kid is clear: I shouldn’t write about certain topics.

Suppose a kid, enrolled in a filmmaking class here in Boulder County, makes a movie that depicts sex or drugs or violence. This kid will not be allowed to show the film during class or in any other official school-authorized function. If the film depicts illicit activities being performed at the school, the filmmaker will be questioned by the authorities to ascertain whether this kid has perpetrated or witnessed events similar to those shown in the film. Again, the message is clear: don’t make movies about certain topics.

It’s clear what motivates the high schools to impose these restrictions on students’ self-expression: fear. Next month marks the ten year anniversary of the Columbine massacre, which here in Colorado isn’t just a media spectacle but a local tragedy. If a teacher has any inkling that a student might be involved in anything dangerous and fails to act, then the teacher and the school are held legally responsible for their inaction.

But we’re talking about fiction here. Don’t these dangerous themes — sex, anger, depression, alternate states of consciousness, rules and their violation — occupy the subjective realities of high school kids? Aren’t these the themes that dominate the TV shows and movies these kids watch every day? Doesn’t the transition into maturity demand that kids come to terms with these themes in their own distinct ways? Isn’t the creation of fiction one way to explore dangerous alternatives experimentally, without actually putting oneself in danger?

It’s hard for me to argue with my kid when she says she doesn’t want to take creative writing or filmmaking at her high school. I can see why she’d rather do this sort of creative exploration on her own time. In the short novel she wrote last November the body count pushes a hundred: I hate to think what sorts of repercussions would have ensued had she turned that thing in for a writing class.

As a psychologist, I’m interested in how creative passion is either amplified or short-circuited by the responses one’s work elicits in others. In my view, this systemic suppression of self-expression is part of what’s wrong with the schools and the lawyers who run them. Somehow I doubt that many parents would agree with me.

What’s the Point of…

20 February 2009

I wonder “why” about lots of things. Sometimes other people see meanings and purposes that elude me completely. Sometimes it’s the other way around, and I see the point where others don’t.

Here’s today’s “why” question, stimulated by offline conversations with a fellow blogger: What’s the point of a movie that doesn’t tell a strong story? Now I personally have no difficulty answering this one: if a movie operates as a portal, then it’s valuable. A portal is a bridge or tunnel between one reality and another. Does the film reveal some aspect of the world to which we’ve become inured or that has eluded our attention? Does it reveal some aspect of the filmmaker’s inner world? Does it reveal some alternate reality? If so, then the movie is worth watching.

The characters and story are a way of demonstrating the cinematic portal’s efficacy, showing that people can go there, can make things happen and have things happen to them. A filmmaker can point through the portal to the other side, drawing my attention to the contours of the reality that s/he is trying to show me, showing me the way in. then. If the portal is working, then maybe I can be a character who steps through into that other reality. It’s there, inside that other reality, that some story of my own might develop its own arc, an arc that carries me along even after the movie isn’t being projected any more.

BIFF — Coldcuts?

15 February 2009

On Friday I attended two sessions of the Boulder International Film Festival, or BIFF. I selected them partly based on the descriptions of the films, but mostly because the filmmakers would be present for Q&A after the screenings. I’m interested in what people have to say about their work, plus I figured if these filmmakers are going to show up for a local festival they probably live nearby, which means I could schedule interviews with them on the blog.

The opening session I attended showed two films. The first one, a short which the filmmaker made while a student here at the U. of Colorado, looked at the work and sources of inspiration of three Aspen-based sculptors. The second was a feature-length documentary made by a former Hollywood film editor who’s now living and working here in town. The film followed a Boulder woman’s life with her husband and young son as she lived through end-stage cancer. After each movie the director took the stage, made a few comments about the driving force for making the film, and responded to questions from the audience, which numbered perhaps 150. The crowd seemed appreciative of both films; the audience members’ questions were respectful and pertinent if not particularly probing. The directors answered each question sincerely and briefly. At the end everyone applauded and filed out of the auditorium, clearing way for the next scheduled session.

What’s wrong with that? I don’t know — it just sort of left me cold. Here were two local filmmakers showing documentaries they made about local people to a local audience. Neither of these films will ever be shown in the local cineplex: they’ll go through the festival circuit, be watched by local audiences like this one, then probably never be seen by anyone ever again. This is the opportunity to connect filmmaker, film, subject, and community together inside a singular convergence. But as a member of the audience I felt distant. I paid my $10, handed my ticket to the usher, took my seat, watched the performance, applauded, and moved on. These two films could have been made by anyone, about anyone, and the experience would have been the same. And in some way I think that’s part of the intent of the festival organizers. Our festival is on the circuit! We save space for the locals, but we attract high-quality art from all over the world: it’s the Boulder INTERNATIONAL Film Festival, by God. We charge premium prices for premium films: this is a spectacle we’re putting on here, not a local love fest.

Maybe there was something cold about the films themselves. The one about the sculptors featured inspirational observations by the subjects and almost elegiac cinemetography of the artists at work, accompanied by some fine piano music composed specifically for the film. It’s a movie about Art and the Artist, but not really, I didn’t think, about these particular artists. Similarly, the second movie seemed to be about Truth, and I had a sense that the dying woman and her family were trying hard to hang onto this more abstract, optimistic and inspirational Truth despite the harder and very specific truths that kept creeping up on them. Once the subject started feeling the power of real physical pain as at last it came into the foreground, the filmmaker could no longer bear witness. The film skips ahead to the community vigil after the disease has finally claimed its own. We wanted to be moved by this story about the passing of one of our own, and afterward I heard some of the audience members commenting on what a powerful experience it had been for them. Maybe I’m the cold one.

I wanted to schedule an interview with the guy who made the sculptor documentary. After the screening I told him I’d like to talk with him after he was finished talking with everyone else. He was fine with that, so I lurked and watched. Nobody else came up to talk with him. He said a sentence or two to the other filmmaker on the program. He thanked the BIFF administrative rep. That was it. When he approached me I told him we shared a common interest in artistic inspiration, that I’d started this new blog, and asked if he still lived in Boulder. No, I’ve moved to Aspen, he said, so if you’re ever up there look me up. And that was it: no further discussion, no apparent desire to do an interview right then. Cold.

I went home for lunch, then that afternoon I returned to watch another documentary. It’s kind of a local story if a mountain town about a thousand miles north of here counts as local. The filmmaker, Kim Reed, was on hand, having flown in from NYC where she works in the Biz. This movie wasn’t what I’d call great, and the story revolved around people whose stories seemed so improbable the description sounds more like fiction than fact. Still, this movie worked, it connected. It’s not about Truth or Queerness, Family or Home or Identity; it’s about these particular people and how they dealt with particular situations that came upon them. Even the movie’s imperfections were somehow endearing, as if the film itself were being tossed around by the violent forces that kept threatening to derail the lives unreeling inside the film. When the filmmaker took the stage at the end of all that melodrama, we in the audience felt like we knew her, like she was a local gal come home. The birthday cake could been pure schtick, but that’s not how it came across. When Kim said that her brother called her that morning from the group home to wish her a happy birthday “for the first time in decades,” it seemed as though we’d gotten to be part of the ongoing story of these people’s lives. There’s something about the way of putting yourself into a story, whether the story is about you or not, that lets your audience see you as a local, as someone they’ve come to know personally.

I conclude with a suggested change in festival format. Bob LaRue serves on the film selection committee for BIFF. A whole host of local cinephiles watch all the entrants and discuss their merits at length in deciding which films to show in the competition. If I were a filmmaker I’d love to hear those discussions of my work, especially if my film was one that made the cut. Why not have one or more of the selection committee people talk about the film after it’s been shown? That way the audience gets an even stronger connection to the festival, with one of their own engaging the film and the filmmaker at a deeper level. Then the audience Q&A can have a little stronger foothold in the ongoing discussion that preceded the festival. This would increase the length of time devoted to each film, which would necessitate either extending the festival’s hours or cutting out a few more films. I think it would add to the experience, make it feel less like just another trip to the cineplex and more like a personal encounter with the filmmaker and the film. More like a local festival, in other words.

Unmarked Path

25 January 2009