To Cinema, With Love

Opinion: An Artist’s Place in a crisis

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First things first the NOVEL CORONAVIRUS IS A PANDEMIC; please realise the seriousness of the situation now. All of us as citizens who are not medical professionals or providers of other essential services are not on the forefront of fighting this disease. What we can do is something very simple, and I am gonna put it very bluntly for you all:

STAY THE F*CK HOME.

All of us need to play our part and maintain social distancing to be able to flatten the curve and save each other. In addition to that, one of the other major things to do is to support and be there for each other, talk to your friends (on calls of course) and make sure they are ok––we are in this together at the end of the day. Further, here are a few links about the virus:

 

COVID-19 Map

WHO Site

CDC site

India Disease Control

Corona Wiki

 

Some more links on how to stay safe:

 

New York Times – Deal with anxiety

John Hopkins Medicine – Social Distancing

WHO – how to wash hands

WHO – how to use sanitisers

TIME – how to wear a mask

 

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Aaron Sorkin once said :

“After 9/11 I felt I had the dumbest job, I felt useless, in the face of everything that was going on and all the heroes that were there…..”

As an aspiring artist, this is what I felt too. When everything around you makes you feel like you are inside the movie Contagion, but instead of it being a two-hour-long external experience, you are actually living it. And it has been months now and it still hasn’t ended, and probably won’t for a few more months. The heroes that truly stand out are not Tom Cruise, because, well, he can’t run and get the cure, can he? It’s the doctors, the scientists, the police, and so many other heroes that will help us get through this.

In the midst of all of this, if we as artists are asked, “What do you do in this?”, we don’t have an answer. This is my way of finding an answer.

 

Art too suffers.

When a  global crisis occurs, what can’t be denied in any way is that the artist community suffers. Right now as well, we can see how several shoots are being suspended and film releases postponed (Although the new Fast and Furious film has gotten delayed by a year, so I guess there are some positives of the crisis?)

Moreover, a lot of theatre workers and minor crew members are also left out of jobs. Although the production houses and the producer’s guild are creating relief funds to support them, there is still a long way to go for most. We often see the film community solely as the celebrities and film stars whereas the truth is that they are only a small part of the entire community. A film set comprises of 400 people, out of which only 10 might be the ones that can be described as “stars.”

Christopher Nolan in his recent article in the Washington post put it well when he wrote:

“When people think about movies, their minds first go to the stars, the studios, the glamour. But the movie business is about everybody: the people working the concession stands, running the equipment, taking tickets, booking movies, selling advertising and cleaning bathrooms in local theaters. Regular people, many paid hourly wages rather than a salary, earn a living running the most affordable and democratic of our community gathering places.”

But the real question is even if the art and artists suffer, are they worth saving? Everyone else that the crisis tackles contributes significantly or minutely into the larger global economy. Imagine a simple bricklayer putting bricks under a contract. It might seem that his/her/their job is pointless but those very layers of bricks will form a new school, office complex, hospital.

But what do the artists contribute?

 

Art gives precaution.

Whenever a movie, book or even a painting on a past crisis comes along, it provides future generations with an account of what had happened. Now, granted that history is a better way to give a truer and more accurate retelling of past happenings, the reach and the ease with which a story––whether on screen or on paper––can convey how these events unfolded and impacted real people is unmatched.

Consider Schindler’s List for example. We have all read about the horrors of the Holocaust in our history books and have been absolutely terrified of the Nazi rule and Hitler. But, at least for me, personally, it wasn’t until I had seen Schindler’s List that I viscerally experienced the true horror. I remember watching one of the scenes that made me feel, deep in my bones, the heinousness of what had occurred.

In one of the scenes, the women in the concentration camps take out blood from their own hands and apply it on their faces to make it seem like they were younger, so that the rulers don’t send them off to the gas chambers. I had read of the various atrocities committed by the Nazi regime, but seeing it as part of a bigger narrative did something even greater for me. It registered an emotion inside of me, rather than a fact.

Spielberg himself described the reason for making Schindler’s List as follows:

“My primary purpose in making Schindler’s List was for education. The Holocaust had been treated as just a footnote in so many textbooks or not mentioned at all. Millions knew little if anything about it. Others tried to deny it happened at all.”

Thus, films teach us of the horrors of the past and give us a precautionary tale of what can happen to us as well. One of the most contemporary examples of this is the movie Contagion.

The film Contagion is about the discovery of a deadly virus that begins spreading rapidly, thus leading to a global crisis (too close home right?). It shows us a precautionary tale of panic buying, mishandling information, and the deadly consequences of mass hysteria and panic.

You might think that these films that tell us a precautionary tale do not have a huge impact, but deep down they leave inside of you, something only the power of story can achieve effectively. It leaves inside of you a seed of an emotion. An emotion of anger, sadness, despair and it is this seed that takes root, that then propels you to, maybe, become the Oscar Schindler in someone else’s life.

But more than being just a narrative form of story, films invoke in us something even bigger…

 

Art gives hope.

Ever since the crisis started, I have seen a sudden surge in internet articles that usually say “10 films to see right now to give you hope.” Because this is true, in these dark and uncertain times, all we need is a sliver of hope and happiness, and films and storytelling are what give that to us. The power and ability of a story to give you happiness and to help you forget all the dark realities surrounding you, even temporarily, is unmatched.

Think about that very time when you were feeling completely depressed and you read a book, a story, saw a movie or listened to music and it just ended up completely lifting your mood. Sometimes, it makes you feel that there is still something good out there, sometimes it gives you the delightful wonder of temporary escapism, and sometimes it gives and shows you an idealistic world that you too want to live in.

Personally, one of the films that manages to do this for me is Ratatouille. I know it may sound stupid that a grown teenager still finds relief in an animated movie about a rat, but every time I watch this film it makes me believe that I can do anything in life. I can be anything that I want to be and however dark the world may seem at any point, even if I’m a rat who wants to cook, there will be something that will happen and I will be able to do whatever I want to do.

During the Great Depression in the USA, when all the industries had come to a standstill, one industry was still able to thrive: The Film Industry. That was what gave people hope and happiness, and helped them get through the tremendous crisis.

And even after this present crisis passes, we need something to give us hope. Something that will make us all come together and enjoy emotions together. Referring back to what Christopher Nolan said:

“When this crisis passes, the need for collective human engagement, the need to live and love and laugh and cry together,will be more powerful than ever.”

And that’s what art does. It gives you hope. It gives you happiness, it makes you feel better in these dark and absurd times. It makes you realise that

 

This too shall pass.

 

Conclusion.

This crisis has made me realise the importance of my job as an artist. We, as artists, must always remember the power that we hold in that small story, song or drawing idea that we have, and remember the responsibility that comes with it.

I would never ever deny that the work healthcare workers, soldiers, police officers, sanitation workers, and grocery store owners do for us is unmatched. In comparison, whatever we artists do will be very small and minute. But if we can only fill the world with these two things––hope and precaution––then I think we would have fulfilled our responsibility,

When this crisis ends it will be the responsibility of the artists to bring back joy and unite the people, even if it is just for ‘entertainment.’ Once again, please refer to the sources listed above where you can contribute and help.

In the end, I’d like to complete the quote by Sorkin that I started with:

“After 9/11 I felt I had the dumbest job, I felt useless, in the face of everything that was going on and all the heroes that were there and I don’t feel that way today I feel that the best delivery system ever invented for an idea is a story.”

 

 

~By Siddhant Chandak, Amity International School, Noida’20

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