To Make People Feel Something

Yo-Yo Ma has been quoted as saying, “If you are only worried about not making a mistake, then you will communicate nothing,” He said, “You will have missed the point of making music, which is to make people feel something.”

Music, the moving image, or any artistic expression tells a story and the risks taken during the process of its creation, even the trips along the way, are part of what will make the tale worth telling. Risk taking is often confused with a mistake until it’s recognized as something bold and new. Risks are often what bring artists to their next creative level. The second half of Ma’s quote is about response. Does the artistic expression elicit a feeling? Is that feeling powerful? I think documentary prompts feeling when it reflects people and their behavior honestly. The exploration of human condition, and more importantly our relationships, along with the why and how each of us react to them, form our perceptions of the world, and is what makes us tick.

One of my favorite artists, Joseph Cornell, (shadowbox pictured left) made beautiful shadowboxes and collages, rich in subtext, about his relationship with his mother, with women and his view of the world outside his insulated life. Cornell’s intricate shadowboxes have inspired a range of feelings, from playful delight to claustrophobia.  Filmmaker Barbara Kopple gave her audiences (of all walks of life) a feeling of connectedness with the wives of coal miners and Kopple’s relationship with them came to play in their story in Harlan County, U.S.A (1969). Documentarian Alan Berliner explored the complexities of identity through his need to know his father and learn his ancestry in Nobody’s Business (1996). Through Berliner’s personal story, he pulls viewers in with his humor and his ability to make us think about our own sense of self and where it comes from. A couple weeks ago I saw Herb and Dorothy (2008) by Megumi Sasaki (pictured below) and edited by Bernadine Colish. The story is of  Herb and Dorothy Vogel, who were early collectors of contemporary art. Filmmaker Sasaki was able to convey the Vogel’s true passion for art and the artists, their true connection to the artistic process in a way that endears audiences to them. They are common folk like us, (a librarian and a postal worker who love cats, turtles and fish) who have an academic’s knowledge and creative’s soul when it comes art. Her next film is Herb & Dorothy 50×50.

Good storytellers convey feelings and take you there. They take risks in their method because their vision won’t accept anything less. Cornell made shadowboxes using found objects a fine art. Kopple made the backbone of a coal miner documentary about women’s strength. Berliner repurposed ephemeral and orphan films along with arguments with his father to weave a hysterical and fascinating narrative. Sasaki brought blue collar audiences into the New York art world by showing us that anyone can understand and even own art.

Another quote from Yo-Yo Ma that really resonates is, “The best storytellers always get really into their own stories,” Ma says. “They’re waving their arms, laughing at their own jokes.” I couldn’t agree more and good storytellers are fearless through whatever medium they work in, or approach they take.

I have been at the Kirschenbaum Productions for close to a year now as an Associate Producer and Associate Editor. The first thing that attracted me to LOOK AT US NOW, MOTHER! (LAUNM) was Gayle’s ability to take risks with this film and her previous short My Nose. Her documentaries are personal stories with relatable themes, but just because they’re personal doesn’t mean they’re looked at through rose-colored glasses. Her narratives are told with rawness and peppered with humor, which makes for a sometimes uncomfortably honest – and sometimes painful, but often pretty funny combination. After all, laughter is often the best way to settle chaos.

LAUNM is a social issue film which looks at (and brings awareness to) the effects of strained upbringings and tumultuous relationships that often exist between family members, and more specifically mothers and daughters. In other words, the themes are layered and deep, but brought with waving arms and laugher because they are told through a terrific storyteller and the many staff members who are all arms of the whole. Each understand the most important point of making art; to make people feel something.

What art or artist has made you feel something lately?

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