The importance of visual stories and why we need to share them
I was at the International Mobil Film Festival in San Diego last week, presenting my micro short film "Mr. Sadheart's Small Day" and teaching a workshop session on micro short filmmaking. It was incredibly uplifting to be around a group of artists who are passionate about storytelling and equally passionate about encouraging others to make films and share their stories.
Susan Botello, the founder of the festival, and I had a great conversation about why people need to share stories. Susan made the interesting observation about how stories - and the need to relate them - actually came before language. So, before there was language, how did we explain that we meant to pick up some nuts and berries on the way home to the cave, but got chased away by a giant mastodon? I mean a huge mastodon! We drew a cave painting maybe, or danced around and illustrated the story with gestures. Early theatre. And what if a whole herd of huge mastodons was still chasing us? Let's just speculate that we probably didn't strive for perfection in the sharing of the story! The same can be said of many micro short films: the story is the big thing, the delivery device is secondary. The urgency is in the artistic impulse, and perfection can wait for another day and another story.
What about graffiti? The tag or piece of art that says "I passed by here, and had something to say." The moment mattered, the artist mattered and the impulse was creative. With many micro short films, the moment matters. "Mr. Sadheart's Small Day" was born from that kind of moment - a chance spotting in a train window of a finger-drawn sad face in the window dust, encased in a heart. Was it a modern day cave drawing? A piece of graffiti? Who was Mr. Sadheart, as I called him? I hadn't even seen him until the sun in the train window suddenly lit him up. I grabbed my phone and shot some footage. Forty seconds later he disappeared as we pulled into the station. The micro short film "Mr. Sadheart's Small Day" relates what it's like to be him. My puppetry instructor in New York, Kevin Augustine, taught me that everything is a puppet if we want it to be, and each puppet has a soul. My work as the artist was to channel Mr. Sadheart's soul and give it a voice. Micro short filmmaking can be - and perhaps should be - impulsive, creative, sudden, subconscious even, like graffiti.
Outsider art has similarly been noted for its unique qualities of being outside the mainstream system. I remember seeing an incredible exhibition of it in New York, and one piece of it continues to live in my memory, an entire wall covered from corner to corner in tiny, intricate drawings and patterns that quite likely only made sense to the artist. It was the magnificence of the obsession that moved me. Once confined mostly to mental institutions, outsider art is now revered and enjoyed by a much wider following, much like folk art before it. Micro short filmmaking can also have outsider art qualities - obsessive, childlike, pure, impulsive.
The importance of the mobile phone camera is huge, because suddenly everyone who either has or can borrow a phone can be a filmmaker. We all have stories we need to tell. Stories are all around us, and like Mr. Sadheart's story, they need us as artists to give them voice. Yes, that's you! You are an artist and you are a filmmaker. You are part cave painter, part graffiti artist and part outsider artist. Go tell your stories. Make a micro short film and share it with the world!
Robert David Duncan, award-winning director, actor, writer and producer with a passionate interest in art, storytelling and the whole amazing journey called life. Founder of Fat Punk Productions and Festival Director of the Miniature Film Festival.