Trylon Theatre, New York, 1976 – photo by Hiroshi Sugimoto
Escapism. This is the word used by many filmgoers, going way back to the Great Depression when a dark theater and Charlie Chaplin meant time away from the real world woes of money troubles and despair. Throughout history, we escape to the movies to experience stories larger than our own lives and we let those stories take us on a journey far away from reality. Many filmmakers talk about obsessively watching movies to escape their lives, starting at a very young age. Eventually these filmmakers became interested in joining the world of creating stories themselves.
Today, our guest blogger is one of those filmmakers. Young, ambitious and ready to begin her career in filmmaking, Eve Studnicka talks about falling in love with movies and her interest in documentary filmmaking.
As a kid, movies were portals through which I could escape into worlds that were — I thought — much more interesting than my own. Growing up in a small Central Illinois town where gas stations outnumbered everything by a ratio of 3-1 and “Soccer Mom” could easily count as a legitimate demographic, I amused myself by spending hours puzzling over my Netflix queue and watching endless obscure indie trailers on YouTube. On sticky summer days, the old CRT television in our basement took me away from the cornfields and minivans, allowing me to skip rocks along the Seine with Amelie or strap on my imaginary .45 and dancing shoes with Vincent Vega—depending on my mood.
I fell in love with movies because I didn’t always “get” the world around me. I was the quirky, shy oddball who often saw peers as alien life forms. But movies were different; they were manageable, creative reflections of life that could be explored leisurely and examined without any trace of self-consciousness. I would kick on favorites like Frida or Like Water for Chocolate and playback the DVD on a loop. Losing myself in the color and agony of Frida’s art or the sexy intoxication of Tita’s kitchen, I would wonder: What makes these characters behave this way? Why can’t I get enough of them? Why can’t real life be this engaging?
- Just as Tita makes it clear that she will never return to her mother, tragedy strikes the ranch. In this scene: Tita (Lumi Cavazos), Dr. John Brown (Mario Iván Martínez), Chencha (Pilar Aranda)
- Tita places all her passion for Pedro into a meal of rose petals, which has a surprising effect on Gertrudis. In this scene: Tita (Lumi Cavazos), Mama Elena (Regina Torné)
- Dr. John Brown takes Tita away to care for her in Texas. In this scene: Tita (Lumi Cavazos), Dr. John Brown (Mario Iván Martínez)
- As Frida drunkenly sings at a bar, another patron picks a fight with Diego. In this scene: Frida (Salma Hayek), Diego (Alfred Molina)
- While drunk at a party, a jealous Lupe humiliates Frida in front of everyone, and all Diego does is laugh. In this scene: Frida (Salma Hayek), Diego (Alfred Molina), Lupe (Valeria Golino), Tina (Ashley Judd)
- Diego's inclusion of Vladimir Lenin in his mural worries Nelson Rockefeller—but Frida thinks that’s a good thing. In this scene: Diego (Alfred Molina), Frida (Salma Hayek), Nelson Rockefeller (Edward Norton)
I was given a camcorder for my fifteenth Birthday. Needing an excuse to play with the new gadget, I lugged it and my crappy dollar-store tripod to the local ice rink where I would shoot my sister’s hockey games. Looking at life through the lens of a camera somehow brought the stories that were happening around me into focus. What I had once seen as a boring ice rink suddenly became alive with the personalities, hopes, challenges, triumphs, and failures of the players and their parents. This wasn’t a movie—this was the drama of the real world. Before I knew it, I was on the road with the team for six months, shooting, interviewing, editing, and falling in love with both filmmaking and the people it helped me to befriend.
Documentary storytelling is less about creation and more about recognition. Non-fiction stories needn’t be imagined; they must only be selected and interpreted from the infinite array of material present at the fingertips of every individual on earth. And when we capture, hone, and share the tales that hit home for us, we are able to understand our worlds a little better and give others the opportunity to do the same. Filmmaking helped me find the confidence to seek out the stories around me. As I did, the world that had seemed so small and lackluster became vivid and stimulating. Nothing around me was physically different, but my perception had undergone a much-needed makeover.
In 2011, I produced a short documentary about an education organization called the Sun Foundation — it premiered on Central Illinois’s PBS station. The following summer, I shot the project that I’m currently working on: a feature-length documentary about the arts community in my hometown of Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Each project has supplied its own bounty of victories and pitfalls, challenges and lessons, new loves, fast friends, and memories. That’s life. And now, when I watch Frida’s world appear on a canvas or see Tita stirring her passions into a mole sauce, I know exactly how they feel.
Of Some Fair Place, a documentary by Eve Studnicka
Eve Studnicka has worked as an independent videographer and documentary filmmaker since 2010. In 2011, she produced Together We Shine, a short documentary about the Sun Foundation’s Art & Science in the Woods program which connects students with professional artists and scientists in a rural environment. She is currently editing the feature-length documentary Of Some Fair Place, which focuses on the artisans who transformed the historic Wisconsin town of Mineral Point after the Great Depression; it will premiere at the Driftless Film Festival in November, 2013. She is looking forward to attending Columbia College Chicago in the fall.