Date of Submission
Film and Electronic Arts
Project Advisor 1
Project Advisor 2
Aviva Skye Tilson
Fall 2013 Frankness: A family portrait
I began this project with one clear theme in mind: the loss of love. Inevitably, that theme blossomed into a dozen more, each one entwined around and inseparable from the others. The tendrils of memory, regret, and identity made up the footholds in my family tree which I climbed in my pursuit of women who I did not personally know, yet could recognize in the face and gestures of my grandmother, and myself. In a family so replete with strong women, I wanted to give their voices a chance in be heard, as well as to have the chance myself to spend the only time with them I could- through archival interviews and fading photographs.
My grandmother, Elly, is a meandering sort of narrator in this experimental documentary; struggling to rethread the tattered past into coherence. She reflects on her mother, known as Bubby Rose, and on her sister Esther, as well as Esther’s daughter Abby, and finally on me. The footage of her is present day, while that of her sister and mother are from 1999 and 1974, respectively. Each woman references the others, across and through the wide gaps of time. The film opens on the landscape that I think of as my grandma’s essence- the beach. The beach functions as a metaphor in the film not only for a time in her life that she was happy, and that has mostly passed, but also for loss in general- the kind that you cannot interrupt, or have any desire to understand completely, but that continues forward with the ocean’s pulse into eternity.
She introduces her mother and father, Bubby and Zadie, who then give their self-introductions in all their bickery, charming, nagging glory. Their unique dynamic made of equal parts compassion, irritation, marxist fervor, and Jewish wisdom was familiar and intimate to me even though I never met them. Their expressions, laughter, and values are still alive in my grandmother, my sister, and myself. Watching them, I came to know myself better.
As the film progresses, we come to know Esther and her daughter Abby, and their diverse pains. My grandmother confronts the loss of her sister, and tries to explain it. The exploration of my grandmother’s relationship with her deceased partner Bill, interspersed with footage of a person who was important to me, fades into the broader theme of loss and death. My great-grandparents chime in on each section with their humorous directness, the ghosts of tough love. What becomes clear is that the only thing greater than the suffering in my family, as in many families, is their endless reservoir of love.
This film became an exercise in compassion. I entered it needing to find answers to my own problems. The piece I have created displays, I hope, that there are no answers. There is only the desire and the need to listen and to be heard, which is all I would ever hope to accomplish in my work, and my life.
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Tilson, Aviva S., "FRANKNESS" (2013). Senior Projects Fall 2013. 25.