Once Upon a Time….
In search for the answer of some of the most important questions in life, two young boys 8 and 10 years old put into action their creative skills, they decide to make a film about fear and loneliness. Research, a spirit of adventure and pure child like reasoning results in a surprising turn of events. A hearty, emotionally uplifting comedy, with poetic elements of spiritual awakening.
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A short Film by Sylvia Love Johnson
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” Aristotle
Forgotten Paradise is an emotionally uplifting poetic piece seeking the attention of our youngest audiences. This ‘children’ genre film with simplistic and age appropriate content incorporates adventure, fantasy and imagination elements in a realistic manner, from the point of view of children creating stories and making films. It demonstrates a moral massage based around the concepts of fear and loneliness. We attempt at decomposing these feelings to find the real essence in them and then conclude that such feelings are but the creation of our own minds.
The idea was born from the desire to exploit “fear/s” which govern the majority of our awaken life as human beings; these feelings/emotions block our growth, our development, our achievement path and more. Thus the need teach our children to perceive ‘fear’ differently from an early age.
“Education is teaching our children to desire the right things” Plato
Forgotten Paradise “Opening Sequence”
When we are small children, just- arrived- in- the -planet people, we know things which we gradually forget as we grow up. This is why I chose to open Forgotten Paradise with images of my children when they were babies: There was absolutely no limit to the fun and the creativity they could experience, no boundaries for growth and development, there was absolutely nothing wrong in life, the adventure had just started and it was to be fully enjoyed. This is clear when you watch babies; there is the constant drive to discover and to learn. That is paradise, children’s paradise can often be polluted by adults, yet during the initial first years of life, chances are that kids will still remember and hold on to the fact that their potential is limitless, this is how we are born, this is how we are made.
Influences that inspired Forgotten Paradise, Films…
Pather Panchali, 1955, Satyajit Ray, India
This film, specifically the train scene, echoes my appreciation for nature as the background of my stories, where my characters blend in as if they were components of nature itself. The striking beauty of the boy and his sister walking amongst the wheat field is enchanting and memorable.
Cria Curevos 1976, Carlos Saura, Spain
Between fantasy and reality this film deals with complex feelings focusing in what it was to be a child in the turbulent Spain of the era. Children constantly find their references in adults to learn how to behave, weather it is right or wrong they imitate everything, feelings and emotions included. The influence of fear is passed on from adults to children. Carlos Saura succeeds in demonstrating the solemnity that there is in the process by which children learn, grow and create their own ideas on life fully, based on what they see in adults.
Sally Mann reminded me of the crucial necessity of spending time and giving as much thought as passion to image composition, finding immaculate frames that reveal the magic of light and color blended with mood and concept during the process of creation. Art is a mixture of hard work, intuition, luck and magic all driven by passion or love which are to many effects one and the same thing.
The Making of Forgotten Paradise
We undertook a series of workshops to get boys into character. They had to know who the people they played were and how each of them represented an opposing side of the story. One side was the doer or maker, the other was the explorer or thinker. Through games, illustrations and sketches the boys learnt that they were to play opposite sides challenging each other to tell our story, yet it was ‘playing together’ that mattered most, like a well coordinated duet dance.
The main thing was to transmit to the children the moral of the story; what was it that we wanted to express with our piece. I found that directing children is very different to directing adults. I feel it most important not to tell children what to do, how to do it or when to do it, at least not strictly, there is more value in giving them ideas and concepts and letting them do with it as they please in an orderly fashion. Once they got a hold of that everything else they do is driven by instinct. The dialogues were very short and precise but they were not definitive. We were to focus on actions and the expression of feelings and emotions rather than in words.
Editing ‘Magic in working progress’
I always learn more and more about the magic of filmmaking when editing. Everything is possible!
I had to be very careful, as the mother of the staring cast I was tempted more than once to leave unnecessary footage in the film, because it looked ‘cute’. For instance there was a time when Gabriel was looking right into the camera with the cutest of smiles, for only a split second, enough for everyone to notice. I’m in love with that smile so in my first cut I left it there “What if he looks into camera smiling, he looks so cute you cannot love it… I justified” Luckily later I came to my senses and amended it specially because my children laughed at my unprofessional behaviour. While fixing the problem I created an unexpected frame that simply works like magic.
Voice Over Recordings
This was the most difficult part to get right, we had to simulate the mood wanted for each voice over and to talk thoroughly about the feelings involved, the characters and line of action. For the children the voice overs did not come as easy as acting the part on set yet they did a fabulous job.
The Art of Movement
I have discovered that I have an obsession for movement in film, movement in relation to location; running or walking towards a destination passing via different locations, blending in with the landscape, physically representing the development of the film by ‘moving on’ towards the conclusion. In the scene where the boys walk in Oxford they are apparently walking with no specific destination however the destination is the conclusion of the film, they have now found out about why the want to make a film with the topic of loneliness and they move on to the next chapter of the story.
Concept and Games
During our games the concept of fear had to be represented by an imaginary lion that does not exist yet it becomes stronger and stronger as we think of it. We can give it strength by thinking about it and by imagining all the bad things it can do to us yet it vanishes as soon as we stop thinking about it.
In the case of loneliness the game was to draw a picture of loneliness, to act it out or to explain the meaning in a song or a poem. The boys discovered that, once again the feeling could only exist if imagined, if thought thoroughly of. Then it would gain strength and express itself as sadness, there was no such a thing as ‘loneliness’ feeling, it could only translate as sadness. Most importantly was the underlying fact that all negative or inferior feelings and emotions, those which do not evolve from truth, are created by the mind, and have no lasting life since they have not true essence, they are condemned to perish sooner or later but they have the potential to destroy every mind that creates them, consequently the life of them.
It might sound like we were treating a grown ups subject, in the contrary; children have a better disposition than adults when it comes to learning and grasping concepts. They simply find it easier to accept the truth.
Natural light was always our best light we used tons of it all the time, making sure all our filming was done during the times of day with more and better light. Sunrise and sunset filming gave our picture a magic touch.
I find it most gratifying and inspiring to use famous landmarks as the backdrop for my films. The works of art by others that now belong to all. The fact that I’m able to blend these ‘Master Pieces’ in with my own work is most satisfying.
A creature that, I think, looks wonderful in film, and which I find fascinating, for many reasons but in this occasion mainly because of the phobia that it produces in many people. It was the perfect opportunity to place the insect in our film set, to clearly expose the opposing poles of the story; while Davide talks about fear of spiders Gabriel happily plays with as many of them as he can find. Here lies the essence of our tale; we are to challenge those concepts, which are believed as truth.
The main thing was to find beautiful picturesque spots to create striking frames where to place our story, we got some good ones but I was left feeling that I needed to spend much more time on this task, days, even months of taking photographs in locations with my cast, before filming. Finding the perfect image frame by frame.
Thomas Wolfe’s God’s Lonely Man
We set of to learn what different thinkers thought about our topic ‘loneliness’ this is what we found: Unavoidable condition of our humanity One of all ultimate experiences
Not so much unhealthy philological defense against the threat loneliness;
- By being by ourselves during long periods of time we confront the critical questions of life or death.
- Existential loneliness is a way of being in the world a way of grasping and confronting ones own subject truth.
- This is the experience of discovering ones own questions regarding human existence.
- A way of confronting the sheer contingencies of human condition.
- He who feels alone seeks meaning: human freedom, inevitable death.
In his essay ‘God’s Lonely Man,’ novelist Thomas Wolfe writes:
“The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence. When we examine the moments, acts, and statements of all kinds of people — not only the grief and ecstasy of the greatest poets, but also the huge unhappiness of the average soul…we find, I think, that they are all suffering from the same thing. The final cause of their complaint is loneliness.”
The author concludes that loneliness is neither strange nor curious, but ‘inevitable and right’ because it is part of the human heart. Just as the experience of joy is heightened by sorrow, loneliness, ‘haunted always with the certainty of death,’ makes life precious. Loneliness and death are thus inescapable facets of human existence, each ontologically necessary for a coherent human life.
What if “The Challenger”
Gabriel stands against humanity and challenges the fear of loneliness; he goes against the grain saying “What if not” what if I’m not sad when I’m lonely, what if I find something; such as the meaning of life or something even better.
He challenges the ideas that are given to us to chew on as absolute truth. These ideas are so because they have been passed on throughout generations.
It is important to teach or children to discover their own truth and not to just take everything given to them by others whose experiences have been different. In this case, Gabriel does not assume that if he is alone he would be sad, he goes off and finds out for himself.
‘Fear in an illusion’
The children who will watch our film, are the children who will grow up to become adults, potentially, fearful of an inevitable challenging life, having almost forgotten the limitless possibilities they were born with; these they experienced fully when they were infants. If they grow up knowing that fear is an illusion, and that we give it the strength we want with our minds, knowing that loneliness does not exists, but only the sadness created by the thinking of its existence, if we manage to contribute to the shifting of thought with our piece, then that will be an accomplishment.