Everyone from the school staff to the mentors, documentarian, and the participants had been buried deep in their respective work since early in the day. As the days sped past, the space transitioned from laughter, talking, and literally running around to whispering ever so quietly during a take, huddling around a table watching edits, and the sound of leaves scratching the concrete just outside the door. The hours leading up to the actual showcase are focused, diligent, and even somewhat urgent.
Everything is getting done but, perhaps, just one last edit. A final tweak in the sound. A once-over once more before exporting just to be safe. It shows care for the craft. Dedication. A commitment to ensuring one’s creation comes out in a way that makes the author proud. We make it onto the grass once 6:00 pm hits, the summer sun still weaving in and out of the clouds. Families are already creating their bubbles with chairs and blankets laid out on the green. Participants and their relatives take in the view from the courtyard and the beauty that is the grounds of La Pietra. The setting looks like something out of a movie. What more could one ask for for a film showcase?
In the usual reel camp programming, we are privileged to have guest speakers and members of the community who come in to speak about a specific topic or issue and then participants are encouraged to make films that address that topic or issue, whether that’s a certain aspect of the issue or the whole of it. They approach it from their own vantage point and discuss the issue in a way that is unique to their own creative and communication styles. This camp, however, did not have that component. Instead of starting off day one with an introduction to something like adverse health effects caused by pollution or the importance of implementing comprehensive sex ed in schools, we were straight into part one of filmmaking. Basically, there was no prompt. No potential topics offered to peruse and choose from. No powerpoint to draw from when stuck on what to make a film about. It was free reign. Brainstorm-A-Thon 2021. A complete blank slate to scribble all over, erase, and scribble all over again until ya get it right. All these things to talk about, what does one choose? All these things to see, what does one want to look at? All this room, where does one go?
I can say with certainty where the teams went: everywhere. And they took the thoughts, feelings, and questions that make up so much of the human experience with them. From the serious to the absurd to a mix of both, it seemed as if no stone was left unturned. To be a part of this showcase and witness film after film was to be reminded of what it’s like to be a person in all of the forms that takes. There are serious aspects of this human experience, which we see in films like “Proud To Be Asian” from Camp Studios. After incessant bullying from a white classmate and being on the verge of giving up due to anti-Asian hate inevitably finding its way to her school life, an Asian student is reminded by a friend to not give into the hatred and vitriol. Her friend encourages her to maintain her pride and love for her heritage despite the opposition thrown at it both in school and in the U.S. as a whole. There is also “Test Tomorrow” from Lush Productions, which shows us through the lens of a nightmare that a girl is having about a test she has coming up in school, something we can all relate to: the fear of failing. The fear of failing is embodied in a phantom slowly making its way to the bathroom stall where the girl is crouched down and hiding.
Both films speak to incredibly poignant experiences that we share as people within the current political and social frameworks we find ourselves in. Anti-Asian hate has been in the so-called U.S. since its creation and the recent racist actions and hate crimes we’ve seen in the news should not be considered a resurgence but, rather, a continuance. An upkeep of the racist agenda that enables the U.S. to continue to work the way it does: the way it was designed to work. People within the audience who are Asian are impacted by this directly and non-Asian people who live in the world and have hearts, minds, and a conscience should be impacted in a way that encourages us to seek redress whenever and however we can. “Test Tomorrow” speaks to a fear that humans who make up and cross all intersections can relate to in some way or another. We all know the fear of failure looming over our heads because we live in a system that dooms us to eternal damnation on a social and internal level if we get even adjacent to failure. This can sometimes be exacerbated by cultural backgrounds and circumstances and it definitely is intensified for people who also have gender, class, and other forms of discrimination to deal with. The fear of failing is real and it is inevitable despite our best efforts to keep it away. We will fail. Many times. What is important, however, is how we learn from it and still love ourselves and keep going in the face of a system that would rather us give up when we encounter it.
There are also other ways to experience and understand all the ways to be human, however, that include a bit more silliness. Randomness. Absurdity. Volume turned up to 11. In a similar vein to the message behind “Test Tomorrow,” Rainbow Productions’ “Conspiracy to Commit” is a reminder to not let your mistakes define you and to remember that you can prove your worth to yourself and others. This is shown through two detectives, one poised and on it while the other is clumsy and seemingly careless, who are working a murder case together. We eventually see that the clumsy detective is not as unaware as we are led to believe when she reveals the killer to be her co-worker through what appears to be thoughtlessness but is actually subterfuge. Awesome Blossom Productions’ “The Stone” is a message on leaving objects and places the way we find them, which we see through the haunting of a girl by a supposed dark spirit. The haunting ceases when an object, a stone, is returned to the spirit by the girl and she takes on a form that is less threatening and more at peace now that she has been reunited with what is hers. In 123 Productions’ “The Desire,” we see a film inspired heavily by the classical setting we found ourselves in at La Pietra, with the Italian villa design and balconies ripped straight out of Shakespeare. Shot changes, dramatic music, shifting back and forth between B&W and color, the film reminds us of the importance of being ourselves. This is followed up in the best way by Some Funny News by S.O.M.E. Funny news which is a mock news special filled with fake commercials, a frog “expert” who can only educate the viewers on tadpoles and just tadpoles, and anthropomorphic erasers.
Each one connects to the other even when there doesn’t seem to be a connection there. A lot of participating in life and being human means making connections between things that we can’t see connecting in our minds. But they do. Much like the first two films connect in the way of deeper, more painful parts of living and the social, political, racial, and gendered influences that create that pain, as well as the ways in which they portrayed that, these last few films are also comments on living and they are made with a little more light both literally and figuratively. As a natural follow up to something like a fear of failure, “Conspiracy to Commit” shows us that being clumsy, weird, or a bit off the beaten path than most people can enable us to do great things. That failure, messing up, or doing things differently can still get us to where we want to go and where we need to be. There is no one way to do things and we should never dream of being someone who falls in line. “The Stone” hits us at a place that is personal as well as shared in that we all don’t want the objects and places we hold dear to be messed with. That what is sacred and significant to us should not be tarnished or altered because someone else says it should be. As individual people who have our specific things that we want kept safe and for communities as a whole who share land and objects that we want(ed) kept safe in the face of continued exploitation and theft, of course we relate. Of course we understand this. Leave things as you found them. Do not take what isn’t yours. Respect people and what they hold dear.
And the last two I think are the best way to wrap up this rollercoaster of being human. The message to be yourself and not care what others think in “The Desire” is seen clearly in the film itself and it can also be seen in Some Funny News. Capitalism, greed, Euro Western expectations and demands weigh down on us. They want us to chimera from a young age and become something wholly other than ourselves. The machine wants the impossible. The obedient. Another cog. In the face of all that and the pressure to view money, participation in racism and sexism, and donning a prosopon as the stepladders to success and happiness, these films show us that it is in fact being your entire whacky self that is the key to a good life. Fulfilling expectations for capitalism doesn’t ever do much for yourself and what you hold valuable. Whether it’s loud and expressive, quiet and contemplative, or that rare person that can pull off both, if there’s anything I would take away from this showcase it would be to be that. Be you. Don’t give into what is expected or wanted by systems and powers that don’t care whether you sink or swim. Give in to the need to be your best self in the face of opposition. Support and actively uplift others who want to do the same and don’t ever get the room to do so because of racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, and every other colonial evil. Fail and love yourself anyway. Respect places, people, and things. Live despite it all. Being human is so much more than we realize.