The following article was written by Connie Kuhns as part of a series of articles about filmmakers coming to the Salt Spring Film Festival on March 3-5, 2017. Filmmakers Brianne Nettlefield and Naomi Mark will be attending the festival and leading a discussion about the film following the screening. The Filmmaker series is sponsored by Stonehouse Bed and Breakfast.
SHOW ME WHAT YOU CARE ABOUT: an interview with Producer/Directors Brianne Nettelfield and Naomi Mark
By Connie Kuhns
Colin Matty’s poem, Show Me What You Care About, was the catalyst. Performed at the Canadian Individual Poetry Slam Championships, his mournful cry for human connection was heard by filmmaker Brianne Nettelfield. She was new in Vancouver, lonely and dissatisfied, and feeling her own absence of purpose and meaning. She sent the poem to her friend and film school alum Naomi Mark and they began thinking about how to answer the poem’s central question.
“I think when I saw Colin perform his poem, it spoke to me on a very real and deep level,” Brianne told me in an email exchange with both filmmakers. “I wanted to care about people. I wanted people to care about me. It was so tiring navigating my way through this amazing city, with such a diverse and interesting population. It’s like the illusion of possibility. I wasn’t finding any sort of fulfilling relationships. As it turns out, making a documentary on connection is a great way to develop meaningful connections”.
“Brianne sent me Colin’s poem and I got obsessed” Naomi adds. “It seemed to express my deep desire to meaningfully connect with people at a time when that was feeling very difficult. I was also intrigued about the openness of a project that simply asked people ‘What do you care about’.
They began with a website and a request that in 250 words (or less) contributors simply write what was important to them. “My curiously and excitement over what the answers would be was childlike”, Naomi says. “I think part of it was I also wanted someone to ask me”.
When it came time to select the handful of individuals to feature in the documentary, they met them one-on-one in coffee shops and on park benches. In one instance, they shared a home-cooked meal. “The pre-interview process was an absolute joy” Naomi says. “Have you ever met a stranger in a coffee shop simply to talk to them about who they are and what they care about? It is elating and inspiring and in some ways can be life changing. I would highly recommend it”. The result is thoughtful collection of Vancouver citizens who bravely reveal themselves to the camera.
Brianne says “We had a really tough time choosing individuals for the film. We looked at the communities our submissions were coming from, and probably about half way through it we realized it had become really important for us that there was a correlation between what people cared about and how it manifested itself in the outside world. We took a really organic, and perhaps naïve approach to making this documentary. And I’m okay with admitting we didn’t really know what kind of story we would end up with”.
Each of the six individuals profiled in SMWYCA has a unique perspective and a commitment to a very specific issue. Lorelei teaches the medicine wheel. Lance organizes community festivals, inspired by his son with special needs. Lisa gathers a young creative community in her salon afterhours. Other participants focus their lives on learning empathy and non-violent communication, supporting transitioning youth, and consciously working towards being a thoughtful and caring friend.
But according to the Director of the Vancouver Foundation, Lidia Kemeny, Vancouverites share a very common problem. In 2010, the Foundation conducted a study on the subject of belonging. It was called ‘Vital Signs” and the results weren’t favourable. In one finding, one in three people found it hard to make friends. In another only a very small percentage had ever shared a meal with a neighbour. There were consequences to this loneliness, including withdrawing from any kind of public life. I asked the filmmakers if there was any one obstacle that they could identify that prevented or hampered human interaction.
“There were so many obstacles”, Brianne says. “Lidia at the Vancouver Foundation did a great job at highlighting these in articulate ways, not all of it fit into the documentary. One of the main ones she brought up was this notion that we don’t think we have anything to offer. And even if you believed you had something to offer, you had to be in a place to offer it. Financially, emotionally stable, enough physical energy. Or have this incredible drive, like Lance. Every person in our documentary had something to offer and was offering it to their communities. But this wasn’t true for them throughout their whole lives. Like Lorelei explains, in her teachings about the medicine wheel, - people really need to be in a solid place to acknowledge their gifts and know where best to direct them.
“One of the other interesting things the research showed that wasn’t mentioned in the documentary was lack of ethnic diversity in friendships. Vancouver is incredibly multi-cultural, but our meaningful relations are not. So there is something there hampering our ability to connect cross-culturally as well”.
When asked if they could draw comparisons between their own upbringings in smaller towns, Naomi says “I think that the difference between growing up in a small community verses growing up in a city is not so much that people in cities are not taught about community and basic consideration for one another, but that the notion of community is simply more pervasive in a smaller place because being a part of a community is more closely linked to survival. In cities there seems to be this attitude where if you work hard and are focused you can get whatever you want and be happy. It’s not necessary for you to be open to the world around you in order to do that. In other words you can be selective about the interactions in which you choose to be a good neighbor or a good citizen or a generous and compassionate human.
As for the answer to Colin Matty’s existential question, Brianne says, “I think what we really saw, in ourselves, through making this film, was a transformation, and the introduction of this sort of idea that we NEED to be connecting. We NEED to show people what we care about – because that is where community starts. It starts from caring. I like to think the notion that diversity matters is threaded through the film and our participants. I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet most of our participants, who are outside of the usual social circles I travel in, if we hadn’t have made this. And I learned so much from them. I felt like the doors to communities were open to me should I choose to walk through.
Naomi concludes, “This film and the making of the film was my equivalent of opening myself up to the world. The documentary represents so many firsts for the both of us a filmmakers, and in the process of making the film we were able to break down the barriers of self-doubt that so many young people face in terms of their goals and passions, and in the process we were able to re-discover passions for storytelling, find a sense of belonging within our communities and propel ourselves into the things we care about, all while creating a new sense of community. It’s so important to find the things that make you tick, the thing that you want to share with other people”.
What makes a community successful is very complex. Show Me What You Care About is a snapshot of the human element, what it means to know your neighbour and what it feels like when you don’t. Or as Brianne says in the opening narration of the film, “When a conversation doesn’t end with see you later, but with come in”.