Volume 52, Number 1, Fall 1998
Because family home movies have played such an
importantrole in several of my films, I am often asked
how the presence of a movie camera in early childhood
influenced my decision to become a filmmaker.
Everyone naturally assumes that my father, the primary force behind our family chronicles, must have enjoyed putting the old family 8mm Bell and Howell in my hands, and teaching me how to use it, while with unflappable concentration (Keep it steady) I brought my eye to the viewfinder for the very first time (Try to put the subject in the center of the frame) and pressed the trigger (Keep your finger on the button) before recklessly panning (Not too fast now) across the field of view (Just because it's a movie camera doesn't mean you always have to move it) until the spring driven camera motor (Remember you only have 25 seconds) would cough itself to a stuttering halt (Now wind it up and try it again). All of this paternal encouragement (You're making movies!) certainly must have made an indelible mark on the impressionable young filmmaker to be.
Not quite. Consider that a dream sequence.
I wish I could say that there is a roll of film, or even a single shot, however technically compromised, that represents the inaugural fledgling efforts of a precocious five or six year old filmmaker to be. Something like the first scrawls of a child who eventually becomes a painter. No, oddly enough, despite the fact that I am in a great deal of our home movie footage, and am often clearly (along with my mother and sister) the object of its loving gaze, I have absolutely no memory of ever seeing, being seen by or even touching that movie camera. None at all.
The truth is I never actually "decided" to become a filmmaker; somehow via a more arduous and circuitous route derived of inner necessity, I grew into one. Much of my adult life has been spent grappling with the conflicts and contradictions of family. With both the presences and absences of memory. When I came upon my family home movies some 20 years later -- as if for the very first time -- the images I had forgotten about suddenly became triggers for a flood of memories. Using them in my films became a kind of photo-therapy, perhaps even a way towards healing some of the wounds of my childhood.
I still often wonder why my father never offered to share his newfangled mechanical toy with me. Wouldn't any good parent have done so? Didn't he realize how high the stakes were? Like music lessons, stamp collecting or chess, this could have easily been the seed of a lifelong passion. Maybe it would have motivated me to join the elementary school audio-visual squad, which in turn might have made me aspire to write screenplays, or become an actor. Perhaps even a Hollywood director.
Instead, I became a filmmaker who uses home movies in films about his family.