The film being “done”, you’d think it was the end of the journey. The product was tied up, finished. A milestone, years of work. You rest from your labors. But the film was never created with those goals in mind. That’s where this idea of mine comes in: film-making as shamanism.
The vision quest is to know yourself truly and deeply in a different way than you have before.
With the film now being finalized in the editing stage, and having seen it a few times, I started realizing its effect on me. Forget the work, the hours spent; that was great fun, I was like a child I was making something without realizing what I was getting into. Beginners mind, that’s a great place to be.
And then I realized people were going to see it, even if it was only five, they would see what I had made, see my paintings, hear what I had written. Mine and John’s work. But the words were mine and I realized I had to stand behind them and what they meant. I had to be very serious about this.
The film has forced me to get very clear about the person I am now and the kid I was when I went off to war. I had to go back through my memories, feel my way back and claim the purity of that kid.
When we first started making the film, Johnny Witham, my cohort, the D-O-P, sound, lighting, co director and fellow chief bottle washer told me, “we’ve got to trust our creativity.” We’d have to go with what was inside of us and trust it would come out they way it was supposed to. The film wasn’t going to be anymore, or less, than our own: his and mine.
We had found our place of power standing there in that moment, and that’s what we went with.
No amount of planning, organizing in the search of something perfect could have ever gotten me to take the first step. Nothing intellectual could have prepared me for something so vast, so daunting.
We had a script, to be sure, yet nothing was written in stone. The sets, the props, the lights, the staging, all lay out in that fog bank of creativity. We’d have to row over to it.
In a real sense the film is still becoming a shamanic ritual. When shooting it, I had to use my unseen instincts and talent for survival. I followed my bodily sensations around. What was coming up, I moved towards it.
The technical end of things: all in John’s hands – the lights,cameras, sound – manipulated and collaborated in this instinctive process. Machines have souls, or do they?
Throughout our creative process, a jazz-oriented call and response, all the elements seemed to be right there when we needed them, a meeting of linear and nonlinear points of view.
We left fear out of the equation, leaving him at the front door early on.
The set glowed with its own magical process, taking on its own life. At some point I realized that the fate of the film was always hanging in a precarious balance, just as was the character I was enacting.
Yet that was part of the excitement, the challenging act of balancing the unknown with what we trusted.
I clearly feel that the universe needs me to play this role. I may have been Cabeza de Vaca, a front man. Clearly Johnny was some force behind it all orchestrating, directing, repairing.
Now that it’s almost done, I feel the film is asking me: who am I really? Why say what I say? What are the motivations behind my intentions? And, finally, am I responsible for what I’ve made?
If it’s truly a real heart-felt, passionate film, and not a ploy for ego needs, I’ve got to revisit the process.
The film is a way to keep me informing myself about myself. Instead of an end, it’s an initiation for something new: a new me. That’s the point about shamanism, that’s the real power of making it. Nothing is separate from me.
I think the character in the film makes that turn into himself, dealing with the pain of uprooting his personal history, his bumps and warts. In speaking about the war he is actually reliving it, living his own fate. Precarious yes, but he keeps on painting, the only thing he can really do. I think it leads him out of the film and into himself. And we want to show that.