There were several documentary shorts yesterday that really moved me. I live-Tweeted reflections after each one on my @sjwarren1 feed. The Campus theater was a lovely place to see them as shown in this poorly lit picture below taken with my iPhone.
In these walls could talk
The first was “If these walls could talk.” It was set in abandoned Irish psychiatric hospitals with voiceovers of those who had been there telling their stories. The emptiness of the locations was haunting and amazingly shot with the washed out colors that screamed age and disuse. There were abandoned hospital objects everywhere in some rooms and just washed out light touching on the dust in the hallways of other places.
It connected me back to my own high school explorations of abandoned metro Detroit hospitals, churches, train stations, etc. The filmmakers and the stories told by the narrators filled me with a sense of loss and sadness that was challenging and educational. The pain and fear in some of their voices connected the images in a way that I can never divorce in my memory.
This film focused on the dearth of disabled actors (of all disabilities) in the entertainment industry and showed us several actors, but especially focused on one woman in particular who is working hard to change that. The stories told in this film by each actor really raised my awareness of the problem by pointing out some of the similarities between Hollywood’s use of non-disabled actors to play the disabled (i.e. Sean Penn, Daniel Day-Lewis) and when they used to have white people play African Americans, Native Americans and people of many different cultures, often insultingly. There were connections to TV and films that I had seen when they were new, but I had never really thought twice about including Facts of Life, My Left Foot, and Deadwood, which included both disabled and non-disabled actors.
One of the major facets of acting that was mentioned repeatedly was the concept of authenticity. In designing instruction, especially from a social constructivist perspective, one always strives to design authentic tasks and learning experiences, but they often fall flat because it is not always possible to use the right resources and tools to do so. Sometimes, we do not have the funds and are working on tight (or non-existent budgets) in educational settings. On major Hollywood blockbusters, there are often no such excuses.
This is the one I was most looking forward to and wound up being the most difficult to watch because of the subject matter as well as the experimental nature of the filming and construction. I thoroughly engaged with it, though others around me in the audience did not see its value and communicated this audibly during the screening. It was a true piece of dramaturgical communicative action in a very pure sense. It made truth claims that one had to be prepared to understand or engage as an audience member or risk immediate rejection of the bid to truth. It will be at SXSW in a few weeks and I imagine the reception will be better in Austin.
The film is a construction of a large amount of tape given to the director by a man who filmed himself and others as they lived their lives as heavily addicted heroin users. The refrain repeated several times from the main participant and film collector was “You cannot learn to be honest” which gave the film its name. However, it was more than that.
This man under study and the camera he pointed at himself were brutally honest and without pretense. Watching the sores from infected skin where needles had created abscesses forced me to turn away once or twice. There was cringing by myself and many others observing the woman have heroin shot into her forehead or between her toes because there were no remaining uncollapsed veins elsewhere. The reactions of the filmmaker captured on the screen mirrored my own. There was a sense of horror and confusion as to how people could do this, but also one of connecting to them as humans and wanting to understand. I have to have blood drawn the next two days for allergy and immune system testing and this has really put me in a bad place for getting anywhere near a needle any time soon.
Despite my revulsion in many ways, these people were completely honest with their lives and captured all the minutiae of drug addiction in a way that made Trainspotting seem tame and inauthentic. I thought I saw the woman from the film riding a bicycle down US 377 this afternoon, which was a figment of my imagination, but speaks to the power of a seven minute film that felt hours long. Having seen it affected me in ways that I did not expect and that linger.
There were several more films, but I’ll try to write about those tomorrow if I can. I’m off to the Society for Applied Learning Technology New Learning Technology Conference Tuesday-Friday. On the whole, this was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in a while. I’m hoping to get to go to everything next year.