"Be careful - don't walk over there!" a voice yelled. A blast of heat rushed up my leg as I stepped over a crevice. "Walk over that way!" A man yelled and pointed at me to go right. I was walking over an active lava flow and the lava could be quite weak. Those white spots I noticed earlier?
In the summer of 2015 I packed my things away in my parents garage and headed off to New York City in pursuit of a job opportunity. A friend and I were going to bring his car from St. Augustine, FL back to NYC where we would part ways and I would begin a sweet new job. Looking back, the plan was too perfect to be true.
I was lamenting my decision and burning through my cash in NYC while my good friend and business partner was teaching a filmmaking class with his wife in Mazatlán, México. They heard things weren't panning out with the job invited me to Mexico for a week of teaching. I bought my ticket that afternoon and in the morning I was on the first plane out of JFK to Mazatlán.
I don't know why I went - I had always proclaimed myself to be a terrible teacher. If I was teaching addition I would have asked, "What is 4?" and the students would respond, "A number." "Wrong! 4 is 2+2. Now you know addition." But my students would not have known a damn thing about addition.
At this time I was also feeling frustrations in my own career. I wanted to be the next great thing - the next Martin Scorsese - making big bold films while preserving the history and art of cinema.
"The World Needs
People That Love What They Do."
This graffiti was one of several phrases written on walls around Mazatlán. The tag is a heart with the phrase "Acción Poética Mazatlán", a movement that started in 1996 Monterray, México. The only rules of the group are not to paint political or religious slogans, and keep a loving tone. This one hit me at the right time.
I often described what I did as play make-believe with cameras. But somewhere along the way I forgot how to play. I fell out of love with what I was doing. I discovered the rules, followed them, and thought that was my guide to success.
The greatest part of teaching is when somebody asks, "But, why?" I never questioned why I had to do anything, I just knew, "do this and that will happen." I never looked at the rules and decided how I would interpret them; never asked the rules, "Yeah, why do I have to do it that way?" My creativity was gone. How could I get people excited about creativity if I had none to share?
When a student asked, "Why?" I began asking the rule too, "Yeah, why do we do that?" So we experimented! We tried doing it the way the rules said not to. Most of it was terrible, but sometimes we struck some gold as well; we even made a film about waking up and getting coffee that was quite hilarious. I loved it so much I stayed for a month and helped make more films.
This year marked my 3rd year returning with Brian and his wife Anni to teach filmmaking in Mazatlán. It is by far one of my favourite weeks in the year. This year was an incredible gift. Everyone came with curious minds, playful personalities, and an innate desire to improve the world through visual storytelling. What a great feeling it is to help them on their journey and allow them to guide my own story.
A good friend gave me a notebook. It's a beautiful notebook. A flap of worn leather with an elastic strap and a camera pendant. In it, she left instructions, "Fill this notebook with every inspiration, fear, wish, memory, anything your heart, soul, and mind want."
It's nearly full, which means there's material to share. I was flying to Atlanta by way of Toronto and recorded the following:
I find great irony in this moment. A middle aged man is sitting next to me on the airplane. He's grey on top, blue and white dress shirt on and sporting that middle aged "I've neglected my health this long, why bother to change that now" kind of belly. It's held back by the worlds strongest belt buckle.
He's watching a Paul Newman film on his ipad and struggling to find a comfortable viewing angle. When the flight attendant stops by, he orders a ham & swiss sandwich with a white wine. He pays with a credit card, drinks the wine, and eats half of the sandwich. The other half is thrown away with the empty wine bottle. Throughout this transaction his attention remains fixed on the film, one hand on the ipad, one hand discarding the trash. He looks down at the iPad the way a librarian looks down her nose at an overdue book. Gravity seems to have pulled the corners of his mouth into a permanent half-frown. The kind of frown your boss gives you when you ask for a raise during a market downturn. Maybe he has fielded many of these requests in the past few years.
A couple sit in front of me. Early 30's and obviously in love. When the plane takes off she is taking pictures with her camera. He takes the camera from her, takes her earring and begins posing her in artistic portraits as she looks longingly out the window pointing to the mountains below. After all, they do look so beautiful in the sunset. He returns her earring and squeezes next to her. They begin taking selfies, laughing as they review each shot. When the flight attendant comes by the man orders a tea and she asks for a blanket. They share a bag of almonds they brought onto the plane. When they have finished their snack he raises the armrest and she lays across him. He tucks the blanket around her and rests his arm on her shoulder. He must not be tired yet as he uses his free hand to hold his book. She quickly falls asleep.
I sit against the window, trapped. My laptop is in my suitcase above me. I write these observations in a notebook given to me by a good friend. It's made of leather and paper with a metal camera charm strung on the elastic clasp. My pen is a metal ballpoint that fits neatly into the leather loop attached to the binding. I sit and observe the two parties surrounding me. I have my earplugs in to dampen the noise of flying. When the flight attendant comes by I order a water and a diet coke. I stash the free pretzels and cookies in my bag. A 6 hour layover in Toronto awaits me and I don't know what food options are available between midnight and 5am. She hands me the water and I promptly consume it. I was in line at a vending machine to buy a bottle before take-off but the children in front of me broke the machine. I slowly sip the diet coke as I observe the people around me and work up the courage to ask the man next to me if I may retrieve my laptop from my suitcase so I too can join him in screen-time solitude.