A Firelight Documentary Lab fellow and first-time director shares “biggest hopes and biggest fears”
By Sian-Pierre Regis
It’s a wildly unsettling experience being a first-time director. One moment, I’m riding the highs of a breakthrough edit session for my film Duty Free and the next I’m struck with worry as to how I’ll make ends meet next month. And then there are the ever-present anxieties: Is this the story I want to tell? Does this story even matter? And OMG why did I sign up to do this again?
For much of this rollercoaster ride, I’ve been alone. With an indefatigable producer, an incredibly smart team, and a wonderfully supportive community, I haven’t been lonely, really. But I’ve been alone in my thoughts day after day, crafting many of the ‘whys?’ and ‘who cares?’ that make this story matter. I’ve cried alone. I’ve found courage alone. I’ve had to be vulnerable alone.
But being alone can suck. On countless days, my mind has told me I wasn’t enough, that I couldn’t possibly pull this together, and that I didn’t belong. Being accepted into the Firelight Documentary Lab put those insecurities to rest…for at least a week (ha). But when I got to meet the other fellows at a recent retreat outside of Santa Cruz I realized something grand: I’m not as alone as I think. I’ve got a family through all this.
As we sat around sturdy tables in a large classroom, my fellows and I each shared an insecurity about this film process that shook us with fear. I haven’t found the story, I’m not sure about this story angle, What if no one sees this film, Can I sustain myself throughout this process? As each poured in, I noticed that their fears were my own.
And then we shared our film clips, one after the next infused with soul, and driven by a deep conviction. I had goosebumps as I sat next to creators who were seemingly limitless in their ability to present a character, a tension, an issue. As each film weaved through its story, I saw the thoughts my peers assembled alone in some room come to life in color, and I never before believed so much in myself, and in them. I was inspired, and in that moment trusted deeply we, together, could realize our wildest imaginings now that we had each other. That we would move beyond our first film, together, and into our second and our third. That we, together, could change the face of who tells the stories that this world sees. That we, as the Firelight saying goes, are “changing the story” together.
Over four days beneath the redwoods and the glow of the sun, my fellows and I formed our makeshift family. We made a pact to support each others’ distributions, to give advice when it came to social media, to give feedback on cuts, and to be there when the going gets tough. We created a space to believe in ourselves, to let each other in, and to lift each other up. And so by sharing our stories and ourselves, we, like the subjects of our films, became a little less alone.