Travel like an Auteur Filmmaker
Have you ever imagined your travels through a different lens? Spending a few days with locals instead of holing up in a hotel room. Joining a volunteer organization abroad versus booking a group sightseeing tour. Bring our gaze up as opposed to having your nose in a guidebook or your smartphone. Or seeing what the day brings after being lost.
Just like the early days of cinema, when filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford were working within the restrictions of the Hollywood system, we are spoiled by pre-set agendas drafted in books, magazines, blogs and TV shows. Their scripts, like our travel schedules, were often decided for them.
But French film critics believed that such artists could nonetheless achieve a personal style in the way they shot film. They wanted film to push the audience’s boundaries rather than cater to standard norms.
Thus the auteur theory was born — where the director, rather than the screenplay writer, is considered the “author” of the film.
Unlike our European counterparts, many workers worldwide are only afforded two weeks of vacation per year. I was one of them. So I sympathize with those who schedule every moment of their trip.
But what happens if you leave a day free for discovery? What will it consist of? What cast of new characters will you meet? Which angles seem more interesting now? From what perspective will you choose to see life from?
The one aspect of auteur filmmaking that caused a lightbulb moment for me is the periphery of the frame. Beverly Peterson, critically-acclaimed NYC filmmaker and a very dear mentor of mine, first introduced this concept during my enthusiastic days as a I-think-I'm-a-deeply-scholastic-college-student-slash-wannabe-filmmaker. She asked, “What’s happening within frame? Because what you see with your own eyes is already framed. What else do you want to explore? Is there something on the edge that’s interesting?”
She blew my mind.
If you’ve ever watched a Wes Anderson film, you’ll know that every shot is carefully staged and choreographed (and always symmetrical in nature). Yet Anderson also asks his audience to look at the periphery, since the edges of the frame are just as interesting as what’s happening deep in the center. That’s where real drama might be occurring.
And just like in life, it’s often in the margins or with the marginal crowd where the most important human and social interactions occur.
I’ll admit… I oftentimes play it safe when traveling. I can sense when something’s amiss or even life-threatening (“It’s like I have ESPN or something!”) and I won’t allow anything (not even an annoying sprain or cough) to derail my plans.
But I wouldn’t have had these ridiculous yet unforgettable memories if I stayed within my usual modus operandi.
Taking shots of vodka from a container fermenting exotic animal parts (as ritualistic practice upon crossing the Mekong River Delta to Laos with my sister).
Holding on for dear life to a motorcycle-riding guide, sans helmet, to make a geothermal spa treatment on a Bali mountaintop.
Taking up a stranger’s offer to stay with their family in a fancy Jakarta suburb after learning the main city where I was headed to was flooded.
Volunteering at an orphanage in Mexico.
Playing Chinese fire drill after the Mexico/US border with a ukelele and a Mexican wrestling mask while stuck in traffic.
Trying to play Kings with Montreal friends in 5 different languages. Two... Deux... Dois... Due! You! Tu! Drink!
Getting chased downhill by a cow in open pastures, after being encouraged by my Midwestern boyfriend to tip it over.
Ducking and covering my face while driving through a Hezbollah-controlled area outside of Hariri Airport in Beirut; after stern parental warnings not to go.
Getting a glimpse of Syria (and hearing old-school Syrian music from nearby radio frequencies) atop Lebanon’s mountains before the war.
How will you frame your next trip?
Re-run of my LinkedIn Pulse post of same name, published 9/23/14