The teaching term is over at Yonsei, Marcella’s sisters and friends are gone and outside it is discouragingly cold. No jaunts for the moment to other places, and instead the computers on my desk (two up and running, another awaiting a power unit to join the fray, and the notebook I write this on) are humming away. I’m in a workaholic mood and am busy editing. Firstly on SWIMMING IN NEBRASKA, a work shot in Lincoln Nebraska in 2006, with friends and acquaintances there. It will be a kind of counterpoint to the presumed provincialism of such places, which begets quizzical looks and questions like, “Lincoln Nebraska, why’d you live there?” I suspect that we landed there in part because Dan Ladely at the Ross Media Center, who arranged the artist’s residency I was on, knew that I didn’t have such a view about the mid-west and would happily spend some time there. Which we did, and it was indeed a fruitful and enjoyable time, including a little project in Cherry County, a vast area of the Nebraska Sandhills, where Marcella and I went to teach the very young students and their teachers in one-room school houses how to use DV cameras, and do some basic editing, with the idea they’d make a portrait of these places before State economics closed them down. We had a great time, and it seemed our charges did as well. At the conclusion there was a screening for them and their families in the only cinema in Valentine. A lotta cowboy hats.
And while in Lincoln, meeting people and making new friends, SWIMMING IN NEBRASKA developed. I imagine it will be a kind of essay, obliquely, by way of showing just a sliver of what is in Nebraska offering a critique of those who imagine it to be nothing – a bland if long drive on Interstate 80, or a distant patchwork missed while flying over. Here’s some images from Swimming:
I’m hoping to nudge this one to completion by the time teaching starts again March 1. Or at least be real close to finished. (Paintings by Marjorie Mikasen.) [*]
Meantime there’s also two others taking form. One is PICOLLI MIRACOLI, a portrait of a kind of my daughter Clara (Villaverde Cabral) Jost’s first three and a half years of life. During that time I more or less raised her alone, while her mother, Portuguese director Teresa Villaverde, tended to making several films. Os Mutantes , delayed during the pregnancy, she went off two weeks after Clara’s birth to research, find sets, and prepare. Teresa’s films are Euro-art films, made with public money, with budgets around 1.5 to 2 million Euros. To say they are industrial scale films, requiring the usual work hours found in such things. For all practical purposes she was tied up with the film, in Lisbon, elsewhere in Portugal, and then editing in Paris, for the next 18 months. I took care of Clara, 24/7 the entire period. Afterward Teresa was off to festivals and post-making matters, and it was more of the same. And then Teresa commenced her next, Agua e Sal, in which she’d cast Clara in a small role. On Nov. 2, 2000, when Agua e Sal was almost finished shooting, Teresa kidnapped Clara from our home in Rome, taking her to Portugal where for a while she went into hiding. The next month, in December Teresa started editing the film (12 hour day type stuff) and dumped Clara off in a new and unfamiliar school, including after hours things so she could carry on editing. I can’t read scripts, and while I had tried with this one, it bored me within two pages, so unfortunately I put it down, and later acceded to Teresa’s request to cast Clara in the film – as it turns out in the role of a child kidnapped by her mother in a family breakup story. Teresa, for film business reasons (lost an actor for a while to another film production) hadn’t yet shot the kidnap sequence in November – which on paper required a fight, crying child in mother’s arms, etc. – so she shot that with the freshly actually kidnapped Clara in January, despite my effort to legally block it. This is a long, gruesome story which, among other things, will be covered in Paginas para Clara, a new blog I’ll be starting for her. All of which is to say that getting around to facing PICOLLI MIRACOLI has been a long time coming, though merely looking at the material renews the utter devastation and pain which was mine in the immediate period and the 3 years after the kidnapping. The few contacts I was able to have in the period December 2000 to August 2001, showed only the ravages which were inflicted on Clara in the process. Having been her full-time parent for her first three and a half years I was psychologically her mother far more than Teresa was. The rupture of losing that, for Clara, was devastating. I imagine the wounds, and probably the behavior that created that damage, have not changed. Since August 2001 all contact (rejecting of Christmas and birthday letters) or even knowledge of where Clara lives has been blocked from me by Teresa Villaverde, her family, and the Portuguese “children’s” courts. In Paginas para Clara she’ll be given the whole story of her life, so far as I know it. She is now almost 12, and at an age where she is likely using the internet, and will at some point wonder who her father was, and begin to look for information. It will be provided. And I hope to finish her film – from which I hope to keep all sadness from leeching in from these now many post 3 and a half years events.
This work – editing these images, which requires recalling this life – is, need one say, most painful and difficult, and demanding the most delicate of sensibilities to avoid inflicting damage on what was so beautiful and wonderful and joyous, and yet which, through the agency of Teresa Villaverde, brought such pain, upon myself, and upon Clara. It has been some years now that this material has sat awaiting me, years during which I have glanced at it, and put it back away for lack of knowing how to cope with the emotions stirred, and in turn the aesthetic and moral/ethical responsibilities implicit in making something of it. I think – though I am not completely sure – that the moment has arrived where I can do this properly, and as well I am being pressed by nature’s clock. I think I owe it to Clara to finish this which was so terribly interrupted. I’m hoping to get this done by sometime this summer.
[In case, by chance you should happen upon this, dearest Clarinha, know that through this all I have loved you. I hope our lives are such that in due time – perhaps not too long from now – we can meet again and share our lives as we should have shared the last 8 years.]
The other work is to try to bring some order and coherence to some 12 hours of material shot in Lisbon in the period 1996-98, while living there – most of it while awaiting Clara’s arrival. I had much more, but culled it down to 12 hours of good imagery, and now must wring it down to 2 hours or less. The tentative title will be Imagens de uma Cidade Perdida (Images of a Lost City).
Whether these images will come together and make a film, I am unsure. What I am sure of is that it will take some judicious use of music, perhaps some voice-over or text-over from Portuguese poetry, literature, history. Not sure.
And then, more pointedly, one might ask in these days, just what might the point be at all? This past week a little e-mail came in from Jim Stark, long ago early producer for Jim Jarmusch, who I wanted to have meet a very young and very good Korean filmmaker friend, Dahci Ma, who was in New York to pick up her first prize at the Dance Film Festival held at Lincoln Center. Her film, Mysteries of Nature, is a wonderful work. As is another I saw, Nevertheless. She’s 21 ! Jim wrote me that he wasn’t taking anything new on, and that the market for his kind of independent film (like Factotum with Matt Dillon) had completely disappeared. I had to respond that mine had evaporated a decade and a half back…. Thus, faced with this reality – that there’s not a dime to be made with all this work, and likewise it seems even festivals are bending toward the more commercial, to fill their seats with warm paying butts – why bother? Or perhaps less philosophically and more pragmatically, how can you afford to bother?
Of course for me it’s a rhetorical question as at least for the moment I have an income, and the investment is mostly time – lots of it – and not much money. The films I’m working on now all were time-and-a-hundred-bucks films, as have been most of the things I’ve done since DV arrived in 1996. For me digital video was an opening to expand the range of what I do, to do more of it, to practice my craft and art as one ought to be able to do, rather than sitting or running around, looking for the money to work. Counterpoised though has been the cultural change in which such concerns as mine have been devalued to nothing, while blatant commercialism has been elevated into the sine qua non of our existences. No money-making, no point. So we plow ahead, apparently pointlessly.
[*] Also made in Lincoln in the same period, 2006, was the recently completed narrative fiction Parable.