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11.16.03 High Falls Film Festival

San Francisco BayRenaissance Parc 55 Hotel, San Francisco

The UNAFF was inspirational and overwhelming. Sitting though 5 hours of films at a stretch took stamina, but I thought of it like a college seminar in independent filmmaking. When I came home, I noticed that Rochester's own High Falls Film Festival was about to take place. It is in its third year, geared especially toward women filmmakers, and I noticed that many of the films were documentaries like the ones we saw at Stanford. So I went out and got the two of us all-access passes.

The nice thing about HF3 is that its directors took pains to set up panel discussions and opportunities for film groupies to interact with the filmmakers. Out of this I pulled several themes that I found affirming -- that suggested I may be on the right track with my directions and decisions so far.

1. The more personal a story is, the more universal it is and the more other people engage with it. I realized this when Venora asked me to try a video for diversity training. My options were what I am now thinking of as a video Power Point presentation -- expositional bullets shot at the viewer -- or my tiny personal story. I definitely made the right choice. But apparently "the personal" doesn't have to be autobiographical but it needs to have a personal voice and a subjective story. ("Discovering Dominga" followed an adopted woman back to find her family in Guatemala -- not autobiographical, but very subjectively told.)

2. The intensely personal is painful. It's difficult to expose all that raw emotion and to mold it into a technically refined product. This risk must raise constant choices about how far to lean into that emotion and how to resist pulling back. It takes courage to keep opening the doors. "My Architect: A Son's Journey" was Nathaniel Kahn's search for the man behind his famous father Louis Kahn, but the quest seemed just as personal and wrenching for his producer Susan Rose Behr.

3. Telling an intensely personal story requires "inwardness" on the part of the filmmaker, which is not comfortable and certainly not easy. I've experienced that, even with the micro-productions I've been involved with. The final story comes from within. It can be pulled out, but only if you sit still and stare into it for long enough -- without distraction.

4. Finally, there seems to be some agreement among the documentarians that these personal stories are more than a personal working out of issues -- the can be a means for social change or at least for building social awareness. "Discovering Dominga" explores the highs and lows of one woman's quest to discover her roots but also reveals some murderous Guatemalan history. But the personal story is what is so engaging and what what opens your mind to the larger, more abstract issues of cruelty, injustice, family conflict, etc.

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