The staff and the participants have been working hard over the past several weeks to ensure their messages, experiences, and voices are displayed on that drop down screen as true to their original vision as possible. I have kept to myself as I usually do: watching, listening, and not trying to pry too much into the projects. Much like the parents, caregivers, family members, and friends who come through to see the films, I too want to be surprised. I also want to see something with fresh eyes and no preparation. I want to be told a story and have to carry it with me for the next few days. I want to be reminded once again why art is the bastion.
And as the lighthouse guides ships back to the mainland, I found myself on a steady course back to this mindset once the first film starts playing. This camp begged an answer to the question “where do we want to go with this topic and how far do we go when we get there?”. No stone was left unturned when thinking of the ways they could tell these stories: each topic, from the serious to the macabre to the layered, was full, rich, and full of possibilities.
In “Angel Cake,” a girl baking a cake for herself and devouring the entirety of the cake at first slowly and then in a frenzy of stress and worry, gave the audience an unabashed glimpse into the world of disordered eating, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and the intimate chaos that one experiences when embroiled in this illness.
“Two-Faced” reminds us of the daily pressures of social media on one’s appearance, living, and mindset, and how ideas of the authentic self versus the fake self portrayed through social media are not as black and white as we are lead to believe. This film shows us that choosing oneself over everything is the ultimate form of authenticity and strength.“Best Friends?” gives us a beautifully executed surprise horror film, showing us through the steadily built tension of a strained friendship, stolen talismans, and untrained magic that permission and some sense are things that are not only necessary for daily life, but they can sometimes save a life.
“Justice Is Dead” utilizes the genre of the murder mystery not only for the often enjoyable ultra-dramatics and shock that it is known for, but also to continue highlighting the poignant and incredibly necessary issues of police violence, rigged justice systems, and oppressive structures through the death of a key character and the abuse of power that the protagonist wields from beginning to end.
It’s hard to sit down to write something in this moment and not start off with something like “what a time.” I can’t help it though. Because truly— what a time. We are once again watching another unnecessary and terrifying conflict unfold before us, the continued displacement of and attacks on marginalized bodies and voices, persistent and fervent anti-blackness, and the ever-present scourge of Euro Western exceptionalism that keeps the machine of war well oiled and running. Yes, in this moment, this is transpiring. But also, in the midst of this further escalation of violence, tragedy, melting, and crumbling, people are still gripping with all their might to the one thing that helps so many of us get through it all: art. As practice, medicine, joy, release, respite, survival, fun, truth, and everything in between. We return to it. Every single time. Sitting to the right of the hurricane and creating ourselves all the way to the other side.
This reminder beats hard in my chest as I settle down to write another reflection and think of all these films. Every single one of them, no matter the purpose, message, or inspiration— each one is a testament to the power of art as a vehicle to carry us through upheaval. Whether we are thinking hard about the ramifications of social media and societal pressure on our minds, bodies, and existence, the anger that gets stoked in us when images of police brutality and rage flash through our minds for the tenth time that day, or imagining what it would be like if we really did find ourselves in a situation where magic can literally make or break our time on this earth; each one matters. Each piece says something. Each piece is an example of what people are capable of when given the tools to say whatever they want and in the way they need to. Each film is a reminder that when things are difficult, there is a place we can go to deal with them. Film, writing, drawing, painting, singing, and many other mediums beyond the scope of my understanding. All exist as places we can go to learn how to deal with the world, how to re-shape it, how to live differently in it, how to cope with it, and how to be ourselves in it despite it. Despite everything that happens, art is there and it will let us explore it all.
This program and many programs before it have me sitting at my desk and thinking about creativity in a different way each time. Each program looks me straight in the eye and asks “what do you feel in your bones now that you didn’t feel yesterday?”. For this program, I would answer with secure. Secure. Secure in the knowledge that, when the world descends into the bad dark and everything around us feels like it won’t come back up for air, we will remember that we have the means to imagine ourselves back to the good dark. The generative space. We will remember that there are mediums, spaces, and places where the creating we engage in has the potential to literally transform. Uplift. Huli over and bring the good things back to the upright. I am secure in knowing that art and artists will keep making a better world.
They always have. They always will.