I watch a lot of films. I think I watch about 250 a year. I also watch a lot of films that never come out, that most audiences never get access to. I learn a great deal from the "noble failures", the films that have ambition but just miss the mark fully in execution. I honestly like these films and find pleasure in watching them, but I also know that most people like their entertainment and culture to be in a more perfectly realized state -- even if most of us don't have the resources to bring our work to that state. I think most people's taste is shaped by their training; we learn to like what we get -- unfortunately.
Yet I also think there are some things that always connect and strike a chord with the audience. These universal pleasures are not story tricks or character traits per se, but themes we discover in the stories that move us most, concepts that help people relate and engage with the work we watch. Yet, since it is summer, the movies that come to most of us are designed to separate us from our wallets; the movies of summer are supposed to be what most people want. I go to check them out with the rest of the hordes, and I walk away with less than I entered with. I am not just talking about the loss of money and time either, I have lost some of my spirit. The filmmakers and the financiers, the huge team of collaborators responsible for getting the work in front of people, all seem to forget some of the good stuff. Shouldn't we all be asking ourselves what really matters? I think the answers still can be very entertaining.
Years ago, I had a sit-down with the filmmaker Michael Moore. I confessed to him that I had formerly been a community organizer and felt a bit foolish sometimes having devoted my life subsequently to getting films made and seen. I wanted to return to politics and bring about some change. Michael stared at me a bit confused. The room was silent for a minute before it reminded me that all my films were political: that by giving characters respect and depth, by allowing the audience the room to make up their own mind, by demonstrating a commitment to quality and art -- verses just profit and dreck -- I was doing something very political.
I do try to think about the world, about the power of my labor and what I can add to the world. I ask myself: "what is needed?" Sometimes these themes infect my stories and projects. Sometimes they effect my polices and methods. Sometimes they shape my commitments and relationships. I think they make my films better. I think they could make your life better too. I think if we let them into our lives and art and business, we will build a better world together. At least I am willing to hope that they all will. And give my life, labor, and love to the effort to prove they might.
What am I talking about? I am not really sure honestly, but I am happy to give a try to articulating it further. My list's not in an order, and I am sure to miss some very important things. I will fail. I will get it wrong. But isn't that what a conversation is all about: a group endeavor to unearth something greater?
- Empathy - Making movies is a privilege. Our path and those of others could have easily gone a different way with a little bit of influence, good or bad. There will always be so many good movies yet to be made because all characters can be related to. Until you can walk in another's shoes, you are not ready to begin the journey.
- Justice -Bryan Stevenson's Ted Talk speaks well of the connection we feel when we see and combat injustice in the world. What could ever be a greater good?
- Change/Growth - It is so easy to get stuck in a rut. It is so easy not to see the forest for the trees. It is hard to keep a perspective on things. We can't stand still. I don't think we can do it alone. We need to check to make sure we are always moving forward, and are loved ones are doing the same.
- Emotional Truth - People forget how to live. We model ourselves on the world around us. The surface of things takes precedence over the depth if don't commit to digging deeper. Simple is not what we are. Go further. Creation requires an acceptance of responsibility for and with what is delivered.
- Identity - Who are we? Who are they? Why are we unique? Why are we the same? What's not to celebrate?
- Specificity - There is a universal aspect to the culturally specific. There is freedom in the commitment. Freedom requires responsibility. Limits expand horizons. Make a commitment and embrace it. Generalities, including this one, are all lies.
- Compassion - It is not easy. It is not fair. No one has earned it. We make mistakes. The nature of human kind is to fail. So get over it and let your heart lead your mind and body. We can all relate.
- Generosity - It is not a zero sum game. There is more than enough for everybody. Getting yours does not means they can have more or get their first. If we reach out and provide, everyone accelerates. Nothing else feels better than giving it away.
- Curiosity - Does it need to be this way? Could it be done another way? Why them? Why then? What lies beneath?
- Ambition - We all need something to aspire to and that is the role of art. We show ourselves and everyone else what we could be. If we refuse to settle, we lift everyone up with us.
- There is no end. No list will be finished. No film truly completed. It's an ongoing story with many authors, collaborators, participants, and proselytizers. We are mayflies on the windshield of history. Evolution is the way of everything.