Studio of the Streets

Thanks to all of you who responded to our new initiative: Citizen Cinema: Studio of the Streets!  Your contributions are not only important and welcome, they are essential to our survival.  Remember that if you still want to support our program, laid out in my last letter, you can e-mail me at rnilsson@robnilsson.com or go to citizencinema.net where you will find a button at the top of the home page which will allow you to donate to our cinematic mission.

And what is the mission?  I’ve written about it a lot, perhaps beyond the average soul’s patience, and I hate to repeat myself.  It seems that nothing which can be defined with the same words time after time, can be a living thing.  Living things are different every day.  They say that none of the actual cells which comprise our body today were there at our birth.  They constantly renew themselves even as they prepare for eventual extinction.  There’s a thought.  Renewal in the ultimate service of death.  Funny, since one could die at any moment, that death has a new meaning when you start approaching life’s limits.  Well, maybe not a meaning.  I don’t think there are any “meanings” in the stock way that word invites an answer.  There is the living moment and the tasks we set ourselves.  The goals we reach for.  What we value.  What we stand for.  And the questions.  Who do we love?  What beguiles and charms?  Who are our friends?  Our enemies?  What is the work we have undertaken in life?  What are our secrets?  What have we been afraid to say to that one person we have longed to know?

All ventures.  Gambits.  Desires.  Comrades.  Friends.  Lovers.  And questions.  Endless questions.  But no meanings.  How could there be in the midst of movement and change?  A meaning feels like a static thing.  Could Eliot’s “still point in a turning world” really exist?  Mustn’t it also turn?

So what is the mission then?  To continue.  To puzzle it out.  To wonder.  To be curious.  To pursue, “the way things seem to be.”  And not to turn away.  Not to fake it for any reason.  There are many compromises in life and we have all regretted some we’ve made.  But compromise in the “slipstream” which leads us to see and hear what is “out there” and which gives us the clearest sense of who we are?  We do that at the peril of destroying our most cherished gift.  So we carry on, straining to see and to hear and to make the cinema we learn by seeing and hearing.

And we want to do this with our friends and collaborators, not in an industry, but in an alliance of common interests and passions.  Studio of the Streets means having comrades and believers.  In my life I’ve been lucky to know many.  A short, current, but partial list: Mickey, Chikara, Al, Joel, Irit, David and Carol, Robindira and Robbie, Alan, Marshall, Tim, Adam, Celik, Michelle, Jacques, Deniz, Kevin, Brette, Drow, Charlie, Lauren and Carl, Stacy, Ron, Liz, Fred, Owen and Christine, Tom,  John and Marcia, Irit, Melody, Anne Marie, Michael, Lisa, Nancy, Bob, Michael and Karen, Stuart, Ed, Zoom, Ray, Mark, Zoe, Dan, KD, Harutyun and Tatevik, Nimrod and Victoria, Micha, Samantha, Steve, Bobby, David H. and F., Mira… I just let the names spew out.  So many to mention I could be at it for weeks.  So many who need to know that I think about them everyday and about all the work we’ve done together.

A great piece of news!  The Moscow Film Festival is going to have a retrospective of our films this year.  To have one film at the Moscow Film Festival would be honor enough, but to be given a retrospective, that’s just positively the best it can get.  I am hoping that many of us can meet over there and celebrate what we’ve accomplished.  This is going to happen in late June/early July, 2011.  I’ll keep you posted on details as I come to know them.

I also want you to know that on Thursday, Feb. 17 I am starting up again with a very interesting new class I’ve been giving at Celik Kayalar’s Film Acting Bay Area which operates out of Expressions College in Emeryville.  This will be the third time I’ve worked with developing directors and actors in an exploration of the Direct Action style of filmmaking.  This workshop takes up where I left off with the  Tenderloin Action Group, Tenderloin yGroup and Citizen Cinema workshops which have resulted in the creation of almost 20 feature films.

The class is based on my 40 years of filmmaking experience and from watching the work of the great directors who have inspired me.  And I am struck with how naturally people take to it.  And why not?  The method is based on the way we learn, act and react as we live day to day .  It is simple, dynamic, based on emotion, intuition, concentration, common sense, and all forms of human expressivity.  And… at its best it’s explosive and wrenching and, alternatively, tender and light as a feather.

I ask myself how I can leave something behind which carries on my interest (not to say fascination) with how people are, bottom line.  Why do some behaviors seem false and forced and others natural and “truthful”.  Why do we always know when someone is hiding out, faking it, letting outward appearance, deflective language and behavior hide what they’re really all about?  How can knowing when people are balanced, centered, honest and impassioned lead to a cinema movement which helps to show us who we are, and therefore has a utility beyond box office, entertainment and empty stardom?

I have always been interested in cinema “movements.”  Italian Neo-realism, the 60s French New Wave, Brazilian Cinema Novo, British Woodfall and American Cinema Verite which led to the narrative cinema of John Cassavetes.  In the 70s I was part of Cine Manifest, a cinema collective which led to the production of NORTHERN LIGHTS, Cannes Camera d’Or (1979) co-directed with John Hanson, where I first learned the secrets of working with actors and non- actors in a setting where we worked with the potent combo of what we hoped we knew and what we knew we didn’t.  Sometimes script.  Sometimes not.  No written dialogue wherever possible.  Freeing the body and mind to invent.  Writer/players in open and active engagement, on the set, in the heat of shooting, a company of adroit jazz players working with complex, but everyday music, requiring everyone to listen, to play, to wait, to listen, and to play again.

And now I am starting to find both players and directors who take to this method with great relish.  I have to say it’s thrilling and beautiful to watch and I’m glad to propose that this is the way to real cinema Art, linked to truthful human behavior, unique but everyday circumstances, productive of visions which are not only naturalistic, but which can morph into more visionary, surrealist areas normally thought to be arcane and esoteric.  This system begins with the most common of human activities and can be utilized in the creation of work which can explore all manners of the psychic, psychological, and experimental poetry which cinema continues to explore.

And so this is a project about finding a Movement,  the next generation of Artists who can carry on work which I took up from those who inspired me.  I’m not a fan of most current American art and cinema which seems, alternately, obviously crude and violent, and timid and fearful to offend.  Remember “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity..?”  Yeats said it better about his generation, than I can about mine.  But the sunburnt souls are still out there and I am hoping to inspire a Movement of new filmmakers who will take Direct Action out beyond to its ultimate potential.  I’ve already met some I’m hopeful will soon be lighting torches in dark places.

If you’d like to take this class go up on filmactingbayarea.com and look for my Direct Action Class.  If you’re too busy or too far away, but would like to stay abreast of things you can, for the price of admission, receive my weekly class notes and a chapter entitled WHAT I DO ABOUT IT from my (still) upcoming book WILD SURMISE, which lays out the procedures of Direct Action in some detail.  If you’d like to go that route, for convenience, just e-mail me at rnilsson@robnilsson.com.  I hope to be seeing some of you in class.  And for the rest of you, a limerick written by Robert Conquest which Christopher Hitchens included in his must-read memoir, HITCH 22.

There was an old bastard named Lenin,
Who did two or three million men in.
That’s a lot to have done in
But when he did one in
That old bastard Stalin did ten in.

Now there’s a wordsmith to be reckoned with.

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