First, of all, thanks to my sister for reminding me to contribute to my blog. That wasn’t her intention; she just started her own blog (probably about boys and feeling fat) and she’s so giddy about it, that I realised it’s ridiculous I’m not doing anything with my obviously superior blog.
That aside, I want to talk about my work-in-progress film-about-my-kids, my masterpiece-documentary-about-all-of-life’s-issues. These are the issues I expect it to portray:
The shared biological beginnings of all creatures.
The child’s growing desire to be an active participant in his surroundings.
The loss of the child’s innocence.
The development of a capacity for wickedness.
The moral judgments of the adult mind on the child’s amoral behaviour.
The folly or utility of adult intervention in child’s conduct.
The shared trait of aggression among all species.
The potential of every being to be both victimiser and victim.
The possibility for harmony between children, beyond our adult sense of justice.
The desire for control as the common denominator of all wickedness and altruistism.
The symmetry of birth/growth, and dying/death.
I’m sure I’ve left a few out.
It was good to lay that all out, but I have a ways to go. I had decided a while ago that one thing was for sure: it would have to be told chronologically; I would not take an impressionistic, poetic approach to telling my children’s story. I would make a “straight forward” narrative, where the viewer can see the children develop over time. Hopefully the big themes would emerge not as a result of associative editing, but from seeing similar themes recur, each time with a variation. In other words, to discuss the theme of aggression as an innate human trait, I wouldn’t dedicate a section of the film to footage from throughout Shmaaya’s life of him being aggressive. Instead, I’d trust the viewer to recall past instances of aggression when viewing a new one. This editing approach implies I trust my footage to tell a story.
So I’ve been stringing together footage and, so far, I’m not sure I do trust it. The shots look a little jarring, side-by-side; different times of day, different activities, even different shooting modes (sometimes I’m in the frame, and the camera is on a tripod but usually I’m filming handy-cam). Will the viewer feel there’s a story here, or just a recap of my cute kid growing up? I’m trying not to give in to the temptation to choose the best looking footage for the cut. I’m trying to pick the shots based on whether they contribute to the aforementioned themes, and whether they flow one after another, sequentially. But I have little clarity when I make cuts. Worst of all, I had even changed cameras mid-way through shooting- from a Sony camcorder to a Canon DSLR. How do I (do I?) explain away the sudden leap in image quality around the time of Shmaaya’s first birthday?
To be fair, I do have occasional reveries of cinematic brilliance: I have such beautiful footage, such candid records of human behaviour, such an archive of two humans’ lives, that it has to be profound, what I’m working on. But usually, when I’m actually working, I’m coaching myself to be patient, to have faith.
I reached the first piece of suitable footage of Shmaaya with Savta, my grandmother. Inserting it chronologically is a little jarring: It doesn’t take place on the farm. It’s long and wordy: my grandmother on a public bench, lovingly holding Shmaaya on her lap. She is talking to another elderly woman. How can I segue way to it from the scene that preceded it, of me feeding the chickens and milking the goat with Shmaaya in a sling on my back?
Savta had been an almost daily part of their lives since their lives began. She lived so close to us, and, until the age when I felt Shmaaya needed the company of kids his age, her house was our default destination. She got so much out of our visits. Even beyond the typical doting of a grandmother, as a great-grandmother, she got sheer pleasure out of watching the simplest signs of his development: him chewing on a carrot as his first teeth sprouted, pushing a chair around as he learned to walk, bouncing to the beat of her clapping hands. When Shalva came around, our visits really filled the house with life; Savta and the care-taker had a new doll to dote on, and Savta got to watch Shmaaya’s mostly gentle treatment of her. Having lived in my grandmother’s home up until I met my husband and moved out, my children being a part of her daily life felt so karmically right.
As Shmaaya grew up, though, he became more boisterous and hard to manage in the confines of an old lady’s home. Savta herself didn’t have much of a problem with that- she accepted it as part of the package. But her live-in caretaker, who once doted on Shmaaya no less than Savta, began losing patience. Shmaaya was making a mockery of her cleanliness and order. Each time I was informed that she had complained about us behind our backs, I vowed to visit less frequently. First I stopped coming for Friday night dinners, then I avoided going inside the house, and just sought out Savta while she sat outside. I wanted the care-taker to get the point that I didn’t need her.
I stopped filming at savta’s house. Visits there had little going on, aesthetically, and they had nothing to do with the life set in nature that I was portraying. Plus, how could I film when I was busy trying to make sure the kids don’t upset the domestic order?
When I found out my grandmother, at the age of 96 or so, was dying, I said to hell with the care-taker’s order; I’m coming with the kids. And the care-taker herself became suddenly forgiving of their mess. But it was a little too late. Soon, Savta herself was sleeping most of the time, or the kids couldn’t enter because she was being treated, or even if they did enter, they didn’t want to stay, because they sensed death in the air. I filmed because it was so important to me to document the kids reacting to that. But my footage is mostly of them wanting to leave.
Savta passed away on the 24th of May, right around Shmaaya’s third birthday. My only regret is staying away when I could have been there. She understood my choice. But I can never make up that lost quality time. And I regret that I don’t have much footage of her enjoying the kids. It’s hard for me to understand now, but at the time it didn’t seem important to our story.
I want my kids so badly to remember Savta. For a while I’d ask Shmaaya where she went, and he’d parrot a version of my story about her going to the next world, up to heaven. My mother told me that when Shalva was there alone once, she called out “tata.” My mother answered, thinking it was for her, but Shalva ignored her. Then she walked inside the house and stroked the bed where Savta would lie. I can’t force them to remember for long, though. Kids’ minds are machines that very efficiently make space for ever more pertinent information.
In that scene I shot of Savta on the public bench, I said to her friend that I need to document her generation, for it’s a generation that’s quickly disappearing. Her friend agreed but Savta, hugging Shmaaya on her lap, jumped in “No! Don’t say that. I’m staying here. I want to live.”
That scene will make the final cut. I don’t see yet how it’s part of the story, but it’s part of my story.