Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Make Art! Make Art! Make Art!

So said Glen Hansard, the winner of Best Song for the movie Once, in his acceptance speech at the Oscars this year. I loved the film, loved the music, loved the story of how it was made for $160,000, found by a vacationing Sundance employee, and catapulted to huge success. Great inspiration for all us struggling-artist types.

Closer to home and even more inspiring for me is First Person, a film directed by my friend Ben Herold, which premiered at the Philadelphia Film Festival last Sunday. I will disclose here my awe of Ben’s vision, courage, and cojones. But putting that aside, his film is a powerful, beautiful, stop-your-heart, challenging work of art (that incidentally won Ben the Philly Film Festival’s award for best new director.)

Just as amazing as the film is the story behind it. Ben was involved with a program that helped Philadelphia public school students make it to college and had an idea to follow a group of the students through their junior and senior years of high school, documenting their educational progress. I don’t know much about what is involved in making a film, but I know it takes a lot of money, time, people and expertise, none of which Ben had when he came up with this idea. But he began it, feeling his way and figuring it out as he went. And with lots of help, perseverance and good old-fashioned chutzpah, he created an incredible piece of art.

First Person is not just about the six kids featured, or Philadelphia, but the challenges that face our children, our education system, our neighborhoods, cities and societies. The film raised many questions for me. Like what is the difference between these kids and myself? I grew up within miles of these children, and my life couldn’t seem more different. Why is that? And what can we do to make sure that we don’t lose the potential, the talent, the gifts that our children have to offer? When bright, ambitious kids end up failing out of school, working at McDonald’s, or God forbid, in jail, we all lose. What can we do to change this? How do we support our teenagers to keep them from falling through the cracks, from giving in to the temptations that surround them to devastating effect?

Big questions, I know. One could feel overwhelmed by such questions. And I think the answers are different for everyone. Some of us can give money (right through the First Person website - check it out!) Some of us can give time, talent, love. Some of us can and should make art.

Art? you ask? Yes. Because as shown by both Once and First Person, art challenges, provokes, makes us feel and think, shows us new perspectives, introduces us to people, ideas and circumstances we might not otherwise see.

Thank you, Ben for making your art and sharing it with the rest of us. None of us knows the good that we do, the ripple effects our actions have. None of the creators or fans of First Person know how it already has or will continue to affect people. But I believe it has already greatly impacted many lives. And that is a beautiful and inspiring thing to witness.


Historical Geek said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. As a teacher in the School District of Philadelphia, it was very difficult for me to watch the film. Something about the reality I face each day blown up to giant proportions for an enormous audience to view, made the trials and tribulations much larger. I must admit that I did not want to go to school after viewing the film, in fact I wanted to quit my job. I felt such strong feelings because of the power of Ben's film. First Person reveals the beauty of young people to persevere on a daily basis to overcome the barriers of poverty and abuse. However, the dream of college, prosperity, the dream of the single family home with a white picket fence, the American Dream - is a Noble Lie and dream deferred. This is the depressing reality I face each day - and I'm not sure that I can really make any difference at all, especially when I feel totally depleted.

gman said...

It’s interesting to discuss the creative process and educational problems in the same post. Infusing a heavy dose of the arts into schools may go a long way to fixing some of the problems. Learning in a classroom setting can be a very passive endeavor. Playing a musical instrument or painting a picture requires the coordination of many different sides of the brain. It also develops a sense of pride and accomplishment which I just never got out of finding the cosine of a triangle. Ironically, the programs which may keep kids interested in school are usually the first to get cut.

When I tell people that I was a music major, I usually get some kind of weird response. To most people it doesn’t seem like a “real” course of study, but than most 5 year olds know more about math than college graduates know about music. I wouldn’t ask a 5 year old to create a non-linear opportunistic algorithm, so I probably shouldn’t ask my coworkers to analyze a Miles Davis record. In any case, I know that my study of music prepared me well to face many of the challenges presented throughout my life. It also kept me interested in lifelong learning, which many people have long abandoned.