Friday, November 27, 2009

Holy Moment

By Leslie Foster

One of my favorite scenes in "Waking Life", Richard Linklater's groundbreaking 2001 film, involves two men speaking about film and the nature of God. Known as the "Holy Moment" scene, the two philosophize about whether film has the ability to capture, if only briefly, some of the essence of God and what, if anything, is truly holy. There are a few things they say with which I disagree, but much more is said that inspires and provokes me to think.

If there has been a single constant in the 19 months I have lived in Hollywood, it has been my own questioning and re-evaluating of what my purpose here is. I was certainly doing a lot of that questioning on one of my worst days on set. The day included an inane script in which an Oscar-winning actor spent most of his time making out with bikini-clad actresses and a job position that left me feeling fairly incompetent. Inveterate overthinker that I am, an experience like this does nothing but add to my mental chorus of concerns singing in happy cacophony. "Am I really supposed to be here? Maybe I've gotten this calling thing all wrong. I wonder if I'd be a decent tugboat captain...that might work out better than this." And yet, when I take the time to be still, I know my calling is striving to, even for a moment, capture that Holy Moment on film; to share, and retell the holy moments that I and others have encountered.

To quote from another portion of "Waking Life": Life is a matter of a miracle that is collected over time by moments flabbergasted to be in each other's presence....Our eyesight is here as a test to see if we can see beyond it."

The Christian filmmaker's challenge, as I see it, is to tell stories that illustrate the little miracles of life. I know many filmmakers who dream of shooting a grand epic detailing the Great Controversy (among other things). My reply to this is that we need to tell parables, find the stories of 'the least of these,' and get excited about those moments in which we ourselves are flabbergasted to be in each other's and God's presence. Tell parables that go beyond the visual, stories that see beyond our own eyesight.

Practically, what does this mean? I think it means learning to be still and listen for God in the quiet moments before we race to grab a camera or jot down an idea. We speak of doing this and of the importance of daily worship and meditation, but it's so often forgotten in the rush. I'm constantly guilty of this. Beyond that, this means walking on to every film set willing to listen to and serve everyone, regardless of attitude. People notice that kind of service.

I have friends who are constantly recommended to other productions and whose crew are completely loyal to them because they embrace this idea. A storyteller dedicated to parables cannot forget the treatment of the crew and cast in the process. This is just as much a part of the story as what is being recorded. I have a feeling that without the moments of holiness that are possible on set during production, even the most moving and edifying of stories will not achieve what it could have. Is a good story, which is told at the expense of the crew, worth telling?

I realize this question doesn't have a black and white answer and the deeper you dig, the more gray you will find. I think it's one that we'll have to live with for a while. I do know this; whether I am leading a production or working for another storyteller, the next time I am on set and feel lost, frustrated, or upset, I intend to close my eyes for just a moment. And in that moment, I will remember that I am blessed to be in the presence of these other human beings and challenge myself to discover the small stories around me.


Leslie Foster is a filmmaker living in Hollywood, CA. He is a founding members of Traveling Muse Pictures, a nonprofit film collective.