FILMMAKING AS LISTENING
"Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking our words more seriously and discovering their true selves." - Henri Nouwen
What is the starting point of authentic storytelling? At the core of the process is listening. Listening is an internal hospitality act says there is room and space for the person across from us to breathe, be joyful, lament or discover who they are. It is in this participation of giving and receiving, that we recognize the value of others and also of ourselves. It is in this process, we see the merging of story-telling with justice, empathy, and healing.
How does this happen? In community filmmaking, we have the opportunity to see outside of ourselves. In sharing experiences of neighbors and struggles outside of our regular interactions, these stories can embrace an "alongside" approach, giving insight into a neighbor's daily life, inner conflict, and deep wisdom. Done well, these stories have the ability to reduce the stigma surrounding struggles that may otherwise become isolating, and give voice and platforms to voices that may commonly be overlooked.
I heard this sentiment described clearly to me in an interview of a young woman who was coordinating a learning support system for children during COVID-19. She spoke of rediscovering her area through listening and reflected, "I think I realized that voices have power. If one person shares something, and only one person listens, they carry that inside themselves to another person and another person and so on and so on."
Is this process messy? Yes, of course. And here we find the power of story and truth; that amidst the chaos and brokenness there coexists grace and love that mark our individual lives and our lives in community. That in pain and suffering we have opportunity to see wisdom and empathy. We begin to see as Fred Rogers reflected, "Love is at the root of everything - all learning, all parenting, all relationships...love, or the lack of it." Generationally and immediately, these impact us in time and space.
As documentarian Ken Burns said, "I believe it is the artist's responsibility to lead people into hell. But I also believe it's important to lead the way out."
It is in this listening, this study of our common question of "What does it mean to be human?," that we being to reflect on our own mortality, the spaces and relationships we are connected to, and what motivates us to move forward. In that intersection, we can be a part of this process as artists. We can ask questions about who we are becoming, who we hope to be, and the roads we decide to take, that ultimately provide opportunity into understanding truth and valuing each other well.