It seems that the lifestyle I always ultimately wanted to have-- whether I consciously knew it or not-- has always been one in which I would travel indefinitely, meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds and hearing their stories. I have a distinct memory of being young and knowing for certain that, when I grew up, I wanted to travel around the world. But something happened that I lost sight of that-- I did not believe that I had the means or could acquire the means to achieve this goal and became disheartened, losing sight as each aspiration of mine was charted off as a distant "someday."
When that "someday" reached down to my very deepest aspirations, like an ice cold chill reaching down to the bone, I realized that something must be done. Conveniently enough, last summer, I rediscovered my desire to travel as I was packing my bags to go to a place as near as upstate New York-- when it gave me a feeling of aliveness and excitement that I hadn't felt in years.
It was great to uncover this and have the repurposed intention of moving forward with this goal in mind; it allowed me to no longer feel that I was trapped and caught in the mindset of conformity, of an alienating system which kept us always looking for the next fix; before the sweeping desire to travel it had left me wondering, in my spare time, about the single place in which I thought I was ultimately meant to end up. A depressing thought--no doubt--but at the time I did not recognize it as so. When I took a step back, and realized that the journey was more important, it was like putting motion and fluidity into the place where I would normally reserve for something "ultimate," and when I did this everything seemed to come alive.
One of the benefits of striving towards a goal is that, in having this goal in mind, the fact is that you are no longer simply keeping yourself alive. There is a goal towards which you are moving, and the movement itself is the goal. And thus, the process of getting there suddenly becomes enjoyable. This is not my idea but one of a British friend whose move to the United States to work not only opened his horizons, but also showed me that we are not limited to our own skies. But still, I would have been prepared for going anywhere without the realization of one very important thing--it isn't the places themselves which make moving worthwhile, but the people and connections made with other human beings that are sometimes, in daily life, difficult to come by, but which can truly and positively be discovered behind the mask of every person that you meet.
This documentary that I stumbled across happened to reach me at the precise moment that was personally necessary--it strikes me as very important evidence for the fact that connections made between people can be made not only on the grounds of similarity but also on difference, on the beauty and diversity of each story that has the power and potential to break through our conscious and unconscious stereotypes. It confirmed to me that there is a sheer pleasure in the act of coming to know a person on a level that is larger than our numbing, mundane interactions. The movie HUMAN, created by Yann Arthus-Bertrand-- a name you would likely expect from a foreign film director-- had its first screening at the United Nations, and ended up on Youtube, where I consequently stumbled upon it. It encouraged the process of my own recollection of the importance of storytelling.
Storytelling is something the inherent value of which I knew quite well as a child, it seems, but had unfortunately forgotten. Culturally, it serves as a wonderful vessel for cross-cultural relativity. In Bertrand's film, the black background behind each human as they are presented seems to serve as an equalizing force between all people, and is easy to aid the process of watching such a long and heavy movie. It is perhaps another way, of presenting the idea of an earth in which we live together, but we are not used to seeing it outside of a capitalist context--and for this reason, the form is so effective. It also helped to allows you to watch the documentary in parts without any pretense--you can leave off at either a section or at the end of an interview excerpt, if you do not have enough time, as I had not, to watch and meditate on the beautiful interludes of introspective scenery and music between each themed section of the documentary. It invites us, almost dares us, to compare these people not based on what they have or what they are doing--but by what they are saying.
More importantly, it is the story behind the words that counts. With the form taken care of, only the stories of these people themselves are exposed and their meanings, their lives and their messages, ring clearly through and in spite of the fog of translation. It is interesting that most of the people interviewed speak predominantly in their native language--and perhaps this reveals the quality of the connection between the person and the story they are telling, the link between them always being equally strong. Through this approach, it almost seems as if they are transcending language through the equality of their passion and equal magnitudes of each of their stories.
It is almost as if the contrast between these people which makes the film work, and binds them haplessly and seamlessly with each other. But the true gem of the film occurs at about 1 hour 11 minutes 00, and though I really hope that you can watch the entire film if you can, this woman's passion is one of the most powerful things I have ever seen, though perhaps it is was because of the certainty and the assault of her voice and the effect it had in such a stark contrast to the unifying question of the film, to that question lies at the core of human existence and is perhaps the unifying ground for connection between us all. "What the hell are we doing here?"