From the October 2015 Issue
It is the duty of the filmmaker to be the assembler and captain of a boat of sorts. Once the ship is built and an audience has climbed aboard, it is up to the filmmaker—a lantern in one hand and an oar in the other—to bring the ship to new places and illuminate the unperceived truths to be found along the way. All those captains share one common goal: to somehow make the whole of that ocean visible. Each great filmmaker—by setting off in his or her unique direction—is bringing light to the unexplored territories that their films explore; by doing so, they hope to let us see where otherwise we would have swam blindly through inky waters.
Undoubtedly it is the experiences in our own lives that decide the quality of the images we will share with the world—but there is, of course, much to be learned from becoming a member of the audience from time to time. I think first of my experience watching Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, a film set in the early 1900’s that follows an eccentric visionary struggling to fulfill his dream of building an opera house in the jungles of Peru. There is one particularly unforgettable scene in which Fitzcarraldo orchestrates the tugging of a hulking steamboat up a mountainside. As I watched the ship disappearing into the fog, I knew instantly what Herzog was trying to show me: that the fruition of my dreams too, would be no easy task.
Ironically, I happened to watch Fitzcarraldo only hours before the scheduled last day of shooting for a short project I was making at the time. We needed one shot in particular, which took place on a precipice overlooking the entirety of my small town. Unfortunately for everyone involved, I had decided it would be best to shoot in the middle of January; there were not yet paths shoveled along the hiking trail, and the freezing wind was unbearable. As we trudged through the knee-high snow, I attempted to inspirit the crew by recounting to them Fitzcarraldo’s plot and the significance of its central image. They remained mostly unamused…and terribly cold. One thing was made clear to me that day: This duty to make films was undoubtedly a labor of love. Fun as it can be, the construction and coordination of a cinematic ship is never a walk in the park.
Whether I am sitting amongst the other passengers, staring intensely out at the things that only great films can display, or attempting to take the commanding role myself, I always remain locked in an intense infatuation with film. When I watch great works like Fitzcarraldo, my love for film is reaffirmed as I feel that familiar tug at my soul. It’s as if Herzog is far out in that sea of expression, grasping a rope tied to my heart. As he and the other filmmakers I adore push further out, I feel myself drawn from land into the water. Locked in the purgatory that is film school, I wade in the shallows, dreaming to set off toward some unexplored stretch of ocean that I, God willing, will reveal to the world in my own way.