Talk about vulnerable. Filmmakers who take part in the Sundance Film Festival get up before the audience and introduce their films. They stay afterward to answer the audience members' questions. They're completely exposed.
It feels a bit like parents who labor over building a doll house for their daughter and then hold their collective breath when the gift is revealed. Will she like it? Does she love it? What if she doesn't?
I got a glimpse of that angst Friday night as the Sundance Film Festival screened the art documentary "[email protected]" at the Broadway Center Cinemas. The film chronicles six weeks with the [email protected] chorus, comprising senior citizens in Northampton, Mass., whose musical stylings range from Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia" to Bob Dylan's "Forever Young." The film captures their preparations for a big show as well as themes of friendships, being engaged and productive in one's senior years and facing the realities of aging, including death.
The film's director and screenwriter, Stephen Walker, and Sally George, its producer, made brief remarks about the film and one another. The couple, who are British, have a teenage daughter. This documentary is their latest "baby." It's a delightful film heartwarming, hilarious and heartbreaking all at once.
This isn't a film review. I'll leave it to professional film critics to parse other aspects of the documentary. My take on the festival experience is more about its raw honesty. For good or for bad, filmmakers engaged in this process have to account for what they have created. Few people in this world are scrutinized in this manner. It must be terrifying and exhilarating all at once.
It must be devastating when a project that has consumed your every waking hour for months, if not years, is panned, misunderstood or unappreciated. The flip side is, when your film is embraced by adoring fans, it must be the highest of highs.
Most of us don't have to face our harshest critics, let alone meet our biggest fans, in person. Sure, newspaper writers get their fair share of feedback, most of it in the form of e-mail or those comments that appear alongside our articles and columns. Those comments can be encouraging, frustrating, even maddening. But it's still not on par with putting your work before a live audience and explaining yourself. That takes tremendous courage.
Imagine if this technique were applied to other arenas. What if state lawmakers had a public Q&A after every committee hearing or floor vote. "Representative X, why didn't you vote to restore funding for poor people's dental care? Have you ever had a toothache? Were you able to concentrate on anything else until it was fixed?"
Or what if, at the end of a protracted hospitalization that ends in a death, a family could critique the physicians' and nurses' performance? "Why didn't you do a better job of managing my father's pain? Why weren't these procedures explained to us better?"
Part of the reason we do not have open forums in most arenas is that processes, businesses and agencies would grind to a halt. Another reason is, many professionals fear lawsuits. There's no sense in giving the opposition any ammunition.
I'm not suggesting that all of public life take on a talk-show format. We have to trust that our elected officials study issues and make the best possible decisions. If we don't think they're doing that, we can always vote the rascals out of office, which is the ultimate form of feedback in polite society.But think how differently each of us might comport ourselves in our respective businesses or walks in life if we had to stand before an audience after each significant act. We'd make more effort to dot the I's and cross the T's, and hopefully, benefit from taking such risk.