And the Award Goes to…

A documentary film maker records the present to present the past in the future. We are the Billy Pilgrims of film making. Our schizophrenia doesn’t become apparent until the editing process, if at all.

When I set out to document Cuban heavy metal band Escape, I had every intention of approaching the film with the sterility of a German dental assistant. I wasn’t going to chug vodka with the band, for example. I certainly wasn’t going to sleep with anyone. I was going to love them from afar, like a sick relative in the hospital you don’t want to touch. I would admire, observe, cringe, document.

But, I do not have the clinical approach of a German. I possess more the unbounded love of a German Shepard. Let’s be friends, let’s be friends, let’s be friends. It’s not entirely my lack of discipline, the band was really, if I have one memory, the band was really giving to me. So, when a handful of people who have nothing except but an Olympic sense of sharing are constantly giving to you, any objective purpose is lost between “Muchas gracias!” and “Ay! Que bueno!”

And so Escape and I were friends for 9 long months. This is tremendous and rare. Americans are not legally allowed to travel to Cuba. Once they arrive, the Cuban government does not allow Americans to live with Cubans. Often, Cubans and Americans fall in love. There are countless stories of how these predestined love affairs crumble once somebody gets a green card. But true international love? Tremendous and rare.

After you shoot a documentary, you have to edit it. I am trying to “manifest” the perfect editor by abandoning responsibility. I imagine leaving hard drives on someone’s doorstep wrapped in a blanket with a note. It’s a horrendous act, and even the kindest, shyest young editors will confront you with your actions. You need to look at the footage too, they say. It’s your movie.

So you look at the footage. It’s an interview with the guitar player who came with you to every bureaucratic ordeal possible. Whose mother, struck with Lupus and missing one leg, travels with you to immigration so you can live at their house legally. Everything he says is amazing. While you’re editing, you try to email someone in Cuba to pass along a message. “Oh, I love you all so much, not a day passes where I am not thinking of you.” Instead of returning to edit, you bask in the depth of your love, “It’s amazing I can feel this much! My heart has no limits!” Maybe you go clear your head and watch Law and Order, lost in the wonderment of it all.

So you look at the footage again. It’s another interview with a friki you mistook for the man of your dreams, your soul mate, after you decided to never sleep together again. What a douche bag. Everything he says is stupid. You check your email to see if he sent you an apology yet, and he has not. Maybe you go ahead and watch Law and Order, fuming in the unfairness of it all.

The first months of editing were like that for me. Great Adventure could not conceive of dipping and rising, careening, turning twisting, upside downing and right side upping going on in the roller coaster of my psyche. I defied physics. Meanwhile, my life was passing me by. Spring was ending, but my May was still January. Since July of 2009 and March of 2010, Mexico was my home, my sanctuary when my Cuban visas ran out. I was anticipating another trip. There was no trip to Mexico. There was no more life savings. Only passionate cover letters about working in restaurants. In Jersey City, for better, for worse.

Thankfully, in June, I flew to Chicago for a friend’s wedding. I was reminded that an entire world existed outside of my computer screen. My friend got married, and I took pictures. Freezing moments in time that she had anticipated for the last 6 months, so she too could travel back in time and remember cake and kindness and cousins.

I returned, and my editor and I, one of the best people possible I could have expected to assist me, Anna, finished our grant proposal for Sundance. We took a period of 9 months and made it 26 minutes and 37 seconds in 6 weeks. We are amazing.

In my time travel, I write letters to the future. One, in particular, I post it future Facebook, announcing a huge amount of money that we have procured for the film. The letter is poetic, touching. Many people “like” this post.

I am so happy to have this grant done, I see it as the foundation of our fundraising to procur money, but I realize that I wouldn’t have been able to be here, in this moment, without some very important people. Whether or not we are successful with this particular grant, I am sure we will be successful with many of our other fundraising efforts and I want to say thank you now, because it’s not the money so much. The money is awesome, and necessary, like water, but it is the support of everyone who has allowed me, in the worst economy since the depression, to leave my stupid job and do whatever I want, to make a movie about a Cuban heavy metal band called Escape.

I am trying to stick to a chronological order, so nobody gets jealous of when they were thanked, but please forgive me if you are further down on the list than you think you should be. Thank you to the gorgeous people at 248 who encouraged me to make this decision. Thank you Aki for my beautiful amazing camera necklace and all your encouraging words! Thank you Dan Stafford for helping me pack. Thank you Ms. Macaroni and Danikins and Nikki for storing all my stuff for me. Thank you Michael Colluci for driving me to my sister’s house and sending me a cable one year ago. Thank you Judie for changing my ticket so we could spend extra time together before I left. Thank you Pat Lambe for driving me to the airport one year ago to begin this journey. Thank you High Mountain Mama’s for all your support while I was away. Thank you Nikki for sending me green stuff so I could survive. Thank you so much Escape, but especially Jenny for being my best friend and sister while I was trying to find my way. Thank you so much Judie for flying me to Puerta Vallarta! And thank you Judie and Cliff for letting me live at your house, and for letting me live in your house when it was stocked with Whole Foods! Thank you Esteban for letting me stay in your beautiful home and being my mentor. Thank you Anjelika for buying me and Jenny my first dinner in New York after almost a year. Thank you Sinem for letting me live in your living room while I collected my thoughts and watched Law and Order basking in the insanity of it all. Thank you Nikki and Drew for amazing dinner when I got back. Thank you Negro for all your help and support. Thank you Jen for correcting my submission. Thank you LE for always keeping me in the back of your mind. Thank you Darren for finding someone to brew Escape Beer for a fundraiser and thanks to Marty, the brew guy. Thank you Chiqui for the tattoo time and the Patio Maria video and for being pretty much the reason I was able to make this film. Thank you Alioth for letting me live on your couch. Thank you Kate for help with my free money! Suzy, thank you for website advice. Thank you Diana for being an amazing roommate and friend. Thank you Eric for lending me a camera so I can breathe. Thank you Anna for not killing me. Thank you Mom. Of course. For everything.

Checking in at The End of the World or Happy Father’s Day

A year later, and June is still rainy. I’m back in Jersey City. I’m still gainfully unemployed or almost kind of self employed, (half full in social circles, half empty to qualify me for state aid.) But, I can look back on the last year and know that I followed my passion, my dreams.I was documenting one of the greatest metal bands in Cuba, indeed, one of the greatest metal bands in the world. I was infused in heavy metal, I was making a documentary. I made several mistakes; foolish, immature mistakes. I didn’t have the best back up system filming and as a result, paid heavily for restoring data. I was selfish at times, unorganized at others, possibly dishonest for a second or two. I probably could have managed my money better, organized my files more professionally, but, to my credit, I did not break the ocean. I didn’t ruin the world for years to come because of my corporate greed. I didn’t single handedly wipe out entire species, and I feel in this light, in this perspective, not only should I cut myself a little slack, but, I have earned some kind of entitlement to remind everyone of exactly how incredible I am.

I am striving to find one good thing, one thing that will alleviate anxiety and anger over the BP catastrophe.

I left my sister’s in New Jersey for Cuba, July 5th, 2009, and returned to her house March 25th, 2010 to document hardcore Cuban band Escape. For those of you about to run through the months and count on your fingers like I just did, it’s 9 months. Enough to have a baby. If, with the intention of creating life or oops!, you fuck someone in July, you could very well have an Aries baby. And this is my baby. The filming, the documenting, the staying awake all night, the drinking obscene amounts of vodka, the smoking with reckless disregard for my lungs, the relentless drinking of coffee, the open embrace of all my vices; my tone deaf life as a rock star was my pregnancy. And now I’m raising the baby. The brain damaged, chemically dependent baby.

Exactly as I would respond to an actual newborn of my own, I arrived in New Jersey with the hard drive wrapped in a blanket willing to give it to the first stranger who showed slight interest. Here, take this, I offered. Sell it on the black market. Somewhere, there is a narrative arc, punctuated by touching moments. I was ready to escape Escape.

Many of my friends have human babies. Some babies are brand new and some have lost their novelty. At either stage, watching my men friends with their children makes me understand the extent to which my own father neglected me and my siblings. Not in a way where I feel sorry for myself, clearly it’s nice to see where my penchant for making the worst possible choices in men comes from, but realizing how much I missed out on is liberating.

I watch my friends be fathers and I’m thinking how well adjusted I would be if I grew up with kindness and encouragement from a male figure. Granted, my family reads like the table of contents for a self help book, but now I see, without all that coddling and parenting, I’m a nice person anyway. And so is my mother. And so are my brother and my sister. In spite of someone, on the lowest rung of the evolutionary ladder who contributed to our genetic make up, we all got the good genes. And none of us went on the break the ocean. None of us decided, this underwater oil rig isn’t really safe, but since it will cost too much money to fix, we’ll risk it. We’ll risk the ocean. Dick Cheney’s heart has failed us all.

My father tried to contact me once, maybe 12 years after he left. He sent an email. Not a card with a check in it. A penniless email. I want reparations.

“It’s so crazy how we don’t talk,” he wrote. “You should really get to know your sister.” Once he didn’t feel like raising or financially supporting our family, he just went and made a new one.

I didn’t respond. I didn’t care. Or I didn’t care until now. Now, now that I realize how great it would be to have a father, (and I am still looking if anyone is interested) how great it would have been at the age of 5,6, 7 etc? But, I’m not still angry. What can you do?

Dick Cheney and Tony Hayward should not get a new tie today. No child should thumb around a piece of clay before putting it in the kiln uncertain of it’s outcome as an ash tray or turtle shell on their behalf. Dick Cheney’s daughter should donate money to this year’s Lillith Fair or better yet, Green Peace. These fathers should be shunned, not only this weekend, but at the 4th of July picnic festivities as well. Their wives should not excuse them for their neglect of all the children in the world by breaking the ocean and ruining the economy for hundreds of thousands of families.

Growing up without a father, like if your dad is dead and he’s just not there, is the mathematical equivalent of zero. In the face of growing up with the mathematical equivalent of negative, not only doesn’t he pull his weight as dad, but he makes it more difficult for you, it’s inspiring how kind my mother and sister and brother are. And, well, I guess me. And I don’t think this resilience, this triumph of the human spirit, is particular to my family, but I think it’s a human quality most of the time.

And maybe, collectively, in the face of this negative infinity paternal neglectful oil catastrophic disaster, we are going to, not rise up, I almost typed rise up but that would have been too Marie Claire Cheney, come together? Overcome? Maybe we are going to do something that is not selfish and ugly, but together, and it will move humanity forward, even though we won’t be able to eat crawfish ever again.

For my part on Father’s day, I’ll tend to my baby. I’ll go through files, deleting what detracts from the story and organizing what moves the narrative. I’ll rework my grant application so baby can eat. I’ll play the role of both parents, editor and producer, lovingly, unsparingly, selflessly just like my mother did for the three of us all our lives.