Films are some of my favorite sources of inspiration for my writing. They can present new perspectives, new ideas, new conflicts, and such interesting characters. And good films always raise the bar. I tend to be most inspired by films that leave characters or plot somewhat unresolved, or ask more questions than are answered. It is as if my creative brain is left with homework, with an assignment to work through those questions myself, in my own timing. Often this means leaving some questions unanswered, too, letting them sit and simmer as long as they like. An answer might come along eventually, but if not, I try to let the value lie in the question alone.
When I choose a book to read, I always want it to be the best choice. “So many books, so little time,” as the saying goes. I have a love/hate relationship with the process of choosing what I will read next: I love the sense of endless possibility, the mystery of what each book might hold, but I am always aware that I could also be making the ‘wrong’ choice. A book will often be a significant time commitment, and again, the two outcomes sit far apart on the spectrum of fulfillment: many hours of pure bliss, if you have made the right choice, but if you have not? I am not someone who feels peace in leaving books unfinished. The book will sit on my nightstand or even be returned to my bookshelf of ‘unread’ books, and I will know exactly how much of the book is left looming. (This is probably a complex I should learn to let go, considering again the saying about “so many books”!)
Choosing a film to watch does not feel as pressured to me. Ironic, how much work and effort and manpower goes into the art of filmmaking, and yet what a film asks of a viewer requires so much less time than a book! I am much more willing to take a risk with film, to believe it is worth my investment if it offers even the slightest ‘return’ of thought provocation or creative stimulus. And the best possible outcome is to find those films that will haunt me forever in a good way. They will stamp their imprint upon my consciousness and leave lingering traces of their questions or beauty or artful characters which mingle with the rest of my collected ideas and inspiration.
The other night, Ryan and I browsed through our Netflix queue and chose to watch “Life in a Day.” It was released in 2011, compiled from 4500 hours of video footage from 192 countries, all filmed on a single day: July 24, 2010. The concept itself was inspiring to consider, brimming over with ‘story’ and sure to hold fascinating content. What I expected from the film was something clever and witty - a predetermined narrative supported by footage from around the world. I expected to be impressed by its scope and scale, to be presented with paradox galore, and to gain a ‘message’ intended from its inception by the filmmakers.
But the directors seemed to let the footage tell its own story, and if the message they presented was what they had originally conceived, all the more credit is due them for being able to accomplish it so beautifully. I was blown away by the approach they took in compiling the footage to achieve a complete storytelling arc without choosing any single dominant perspective. Most of the film seems to hardly repeat any individual perspectives. And even when the filmmakers chose to highlight longer moments from one character than from another, those choices seemed based so much more on the actual content than on the symbolic value of each character.
“Life” in one single day: we all know it is happening, that each day, there are billions of lives playing out around the world. We know the stereotypes of cultures - that in other countries, people might be carrying their water several miles in a bucket instead of turning on their tap, or even more foreign to us in our modern culture, that so many people have no access to water at all. We know that not everyone is like us, that others eat different food, raise their children differently, and define things like ‘value’ and ‘wealth’ and ‘time’ very differently. But that is a huge and overwhelming thing to wrap our brains around, or at least it can be for me.
So what I appreciated most about the film was its approach to storytelling - that it was not trying to demonstrate the divides between ‘our’ cultures and ‘theirs’ from any single perspective. Instead, it seemed centered around showing what we all share, what we do all have in common. The film did not suggest that our lives are all the same, it instead honored our differences and our divides, and it showed the range of experiences, from mundane to extraordinary. It is one of my favorite things to consider: the way the mundane and the extraordinary can juxtapose and even switch places, if we really look closely.
The film’s ending was my moment that will linger always. A self-proclaimed ‘normal’ girl - age, location, background, and occupation indeterminate - films herself seated in her car at the end of the day on July 24, 2010. If you have not already seen this film, and are interested, you might want to stop reading now, and save this moment for your own viewing. But it is just that, a tiny moment in a wildly diverse collection of footage. Here is what she said:
"The sad part is I spent all day long hoping for something amazing to happen - something great, something to appreciate this day and to be a part of it, and to show the world that there's something great that can happen every day of your life, in everyone's life. But the truth is it doesn't always happen. And for me today, all day long, nothing really happened. I want people to know that I'm here. I don't want to cease to exist. I'm not gonna sit here and tell you that I'm this great person, because I don't think I am, at all. I think I'm a normal girl, normal life, not interesting enough to know anything about. But I want to be. And today - even though nothing great really happened - tonight, I feel as if something great happened."
This film achieved what I can only hope to achieve in my passion for writing: to suggest to viewers (or readers) that they are understood.
Did you see it, and if so, were you inspired? What other films have challenged you creatively the way this film challenged me? What should I watch next? I would love to hear your thoughts!