What Happens When We Emerge from This Moment?

May 26, 2020 6:03 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

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Roadmaps to Tomorrow

My year began in as auspicious a way as possible. We had a glorious New Year’s Eve party with dear friends, dancing, and laughter that went way past midnight. Then on January 1, I began working on my essay for the book accompanying “The Complete Films of Agnès Varda” Criterion Collection box set, which comes out this August. As I wrote the essay, I watched all of Varda’s extraordinary oeuvre over a period of two weeks, residing in her world during the day and having dreams that were directed by her at night. My husband Nate joined me to watch Jacquot de Nantes, a film Varda made based on legendary filmmaker Jacques Demy’s childhood recollections. Demy, Varda’s beloved husband, was dying of AIDS, and as a parting gift she decided to bring his childhood to life for him. Demy, his mother, and siblings would visit the set and watch actors recreate their past now that their future together was coming to an end.

Some of the scenes that resonated the most with Nate and me told the story of how Demy and his family were affected by World War II. Like thousands of European children, Demy and his brother were sent away from the city where they lived—Nantes in their case—to stay with strangers in the countryside so as to protect them from bombings and attacks from Nazi soldiers. While many children no doubt ended up in nightmarish situations, Demy was taken in by a kind couple. The wife shared nature’s beauty with him and the husband was a clog maker who patiently tried to teach Demy his craft. And yet, in the midst of the idyllic Loire Valley setting, it was clear that Demy’s life was suspended, hijacked by history. He had taken an unwanted and indeterminate detour that separated him from the people and places he loved. His dreams for his future were floating somewhere above and whenever he tried to find them, he’d be blinded by the summer sun.

After watching the film, Nate and I stayed on the sofa, talking about how the war must have transformed the generation that lived through it and how hard it is for us to understand their experiences. I think of Jacquot de Nantes often these days, not so much to make sense of what Demy and so many others endured, but because I want to know how they made it through such unrelenting uncertainty. How did those who lived through World War II find their way after that long detour, and how did they take what they learned and turn it into wisdom and magnificent art, as Demy and Varda did? I don’t have an answer yet, but it’s comforting to know that throughout history there have been moments that resemble our own disoriented loss and that humans have found a way out and learned from them. These moments are maps that will guide us as we envision a happier future, whenever that future arrives.

Seeking Viewers to Provide Feedback to our Weeping Season Rough Cut

still from The Weeping Season film rough cut, two women sitting side by side facing away from the camera
The Weeping Season’s editor, Cristina Carrasco, and I have been working on a new rough draft of the film, which we’ll use to apply for postproduction funds. For the first time since I began working on this personal feature documentary I feel like we have something cohesive that captures the spirit of my father’s disappearance and how it transformed the lives of those of us who spent decades trying to figure out what became of him. We usually host focus group screenings at our home, but given the pandemic, this time we will share online screeners for feedback. Please let me know if you’d be interested in seeing the film and answering questions about your experience with it.

Unearthed Photo of the Month

Alex's grandfather, grandmother, and five of their children
I never met my maternal grandfather, Vilhelm Aagaard, because he died two years before I was born. My mom and I would visit his tomb once a year and I’d read in all-caps the message—written in English in a Caracas cemetery—his children thought encapsulated his life: NEVER GIVE UP. He was born in Denmark in 1903 to a couple who founded and ran a school, so I’m guessing he grew up surrounded by books and a love of learning. As Europe became distorted by world wars and the devastation those conflicts caused, he came to the US, getting his MA in engineering at the University of Michigan, an hour away from Michigan State University, where I now teach. From there he made his way to Colombia and then to Venezuela, where he moved up the ranks of our national cement company, Cementos La Vega. He fell in love with my grandmother and they raised seven children together, five of whom are in this photo, sporting the billowy white skirts and striped shirts of a more glamorous and less comfortable sartorial era.

Comfortably dressed or not, their children’s lives were filled with intercontinental travel, boisterous parties, exquisite family dinners, and weekend canasta games that went on for hours. Grandfather was 72 when he passed, leaving his widow and children with a legacy that blended tireless dedication to work with an equally tireless dedication to enjoying life. It’s a remarkably difficult balance that I myself try to strike. I haven’t visited his tomb in decades but I think if I were to see it now, I’d know it is that balance we must never give up on, that search for a job well done, a family well loved, and a happiness well felt. I like to imagine whatever he had to tell himself to build his life back up after seeing his homeland wounded by war helped him yearn for that balance. We’ll have to come up with our own magic words as we emerge back to the world after the pandemic is over, whenever that may be.

My Faculty Voice Piece in MSU Today

Alex and her son in the woods
I have been working with a group of feminist filmmakers and activists to bring media attention to the current battle for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). In “How the Battle for the ERA Rescued Me,” a piece published in MSU Today, I discuss our initiatives and how they have helped me find focus again in these complex times.

Our “Rethinking Sisterhood: The Role of Media in Affirming the ERA” Webinar Series

Rethinking Sisterhood webinar art, three women drawn with graphics
This webinar series, resulting from a collaboration between agnès films, Directed by Women, Equal Means Equal, Generation Ratify, Media Equity, and Women Occupy Hollywood, began on May 7 and will end on June 4. We bring together activists, politicians, and filmmakers to discuss current efforts to pass the ERA and how you can support those efforts today. I will be a speaker on the June 4 “Approaching Filmmaking and Content Production from a Feminist Perspective to Create Change” webinar, alongside Rosie Couture, Ariel Dougherty, and Barbara Ann O’Leary. You can sign up here to join us from 5-6 pm EDT.

Continue to Celebrate Mother’s Day by Watching This Fabulous Mother-Centric Media

We conducted a twitter poll with our agnès films readers on what fiction films, TV shows, and documentaries they think present complex and nuanced versions of motherhood. Kara Headley and I co-authored an article that discusses the work our readers love. Check out “Brave, Gilmore Girls, and For Sama Top Our Twitter Poll Lists of What to Watch This Mother’s Day Weekend” for dozens of spectacular films and TV shows that will give you a deeper appreciation of motherhood, whether you’re quarantining with your maternal figure by your side or are missing her right now.

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This post was written by Tiffany McIntyre

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