Columbia is beginning to feel like my second (or third or fourth) home. During my second visit there when “Forgetting Dad” played at the True/False Film Festival this past February (“Homemade Hillbilly Jam” was the closing night film there in 2006, followed by a rocking concert by Big Smith), I was asked if I’d like to return to Stephens College (one of the festival venues) as a visiting artist. Now I’m glad the moment arrived.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when facing two different classes of aspiring young filmmakers (all women – Stephens is a women’s college dating back to the 19th century), and was delighted to be greeted by bright, cheerful and curious students who seemed to appreciate what I had to say. It was refreshing to step outside the daily grind and reflect upon my film work from the past eighteen years. I enjoyed being asked the kinds of pertinent questions that were on my mind a lot when I was first starting out, most of which are still issues I struggle with: How to find subjects for my films? How to build relationships with the people I’m filming with and how to maintain a balance between intimacy and distance on screen and off? How to know when to turn the camera on and off? Etc.
Only about twenty students and their guests attended the evening screening of “Forgetting Dad,” but the Q & A afterward was one of the best I’ve had so far, full of insightful questions that made me really think about the deep-rooted ethical questions involved no only in the making of “Forgetting Dad,” but which documentary filmmakers face over and over again.
It felt good to have a discussion with bright-eyed young filmmakers rather than the typical harried film festival and jaded industry crowds. I was reminded of all the inspiring filmmaker discussions I attended as a young filmmaker, and how much has stuck with me over the years after. In my own modest way, maybe this was my way of giving something back, though much of the time I felt that the Stephens students were inspiring me even more. It’s not every day that I have the opportunity to take a long, hard look at what I’ve dedicated my professional life to, and to think about what it is deep down inside that keeps me going. So thanks to all the kind-hearted students at Stephens, to Carol Julian for the invitation and lovely dinner, Kerri Yost for organizing everything and taking good care of me, and Polina Malikin and Sarah Whorton for welcoming me into their classes.
Maybe with some luck, I’ll get to return to Columbia some day.