Author: dylanbennettrhys

STEINBECK ON WAR


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The military mind must limit its thinking to be able to perform its function at all. Thus, in talking with a naval officer who had won a target competition with big naval guns, we asked, “Have you thought what happens in a little street when one of your shells explodes, of the families torn to pieces, a thousand generations influenced when you signaled Fire?” “Of course not,” he said. “Those shells travel so far that you couldn’t possibly see where they land.” And he was quite correct. If he could really see where they land and what they do, if he could really feel the power in his dropped hand and the waves radiating out from his gun, he would not be able to perform his function. He himself would be the weak point of his gun. But by not seeing, by insisting that it be a problem of ballistics and trajectory, he is a good gunner officer. And he is too humble to take the responsibility for thinking. The whole structure of his world would be endangered if he permitted himself to think. The pieces must stick within their pattern or the whole thing collapses and the design is gone. We wonder whether in the present pattern the pieces are not straining to fall out of line; whether the paradoxes of our times are not finally mounting to a conclusion of ridiculousness that will make the whole structure collapse. For the paradoxes are becoming so great that leaders of people must be less and less intelligent to stand their own leadership. 

– Steinbeck writing in 1940 or ’41

Until next time.

Dylan – Salt Spring Island, BC

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STEINBECK AND ED RICKETTS ON SELF-ESTEEM


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Once Ed said to me, “For a long time I didn’t like myself.” It was not said in self-pity, but simply as an unfortunate fact… “Then gradually,” he said, “I discovered with surprise and pleasure that a number of people did like me. And I thought, if they can like me, why cannot I like myself? Just thinking it did not do it, but slowly I learned to like myself and then it was alright.”

Most people do not like themselves at all. They distrust themselves, put on masks and pomposities. They quarrel and boast and pretend and are jealous because they do not like themselves. But mostly they do not even know themselves well enough to form a true liking. They cannot see themselves well enough to form a true liking, and since we automatically fear and dislike strangers, we fear and dislike our stranger-selves.

Once Ed was able to like himself, he was released from the secret prison of self-contempt. Then he did not have to prove superiority any more by any of the ordinary methods, including giving. He could receive and understand and be truly glad, not competitively glad. 

-From “About Ed Ricketts” by John Steinbeck

Until next time.

Dylan – Booth Bay, Salt Spring Island

ED RICKETS ON THE NAIVETÉ OF ADULTS


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From “About Ed Rickets” by John Steinbeck:

“Adults, in their dealing with children, are insane,” he said. “And children know it too. Adults lay down rules they would not think of following, speak truths they do not believe. And they expect children to obey these rules, believe the truths, and admire and respect their parents for this nonsense. Children must be very wise and secret to tolerate adults at all. And the greatest nonsense of all that adults expect children to believe is that people learn by experience. No greater lie was ever revered. And its falseness is immediately discerned by children since their parents obviously have not learned anything by experience. Far from learning, adults simply become set in a maze of prejudices and dreams and sets of rules whole origins they do not know and would not dare inspect for fear the whole structure might topple over on them. I think children instinctively know this,” Ed said. “Intelligent children learn to conceal their knowledge and keep free of this howling mania.”

Until next time.

Dylan – Booth Bay, Salt Spring Island

 

 

NOTES FROM FRANCE PT. 2


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Additional excerpts from my journal from last week, our last week in France. More seems to have happened in 2018 so far than in entire previous years…it is odd and exciting. I just signed a lease on a new apartment. Back to the south side. Content to stay in Edmonton for now. There are stories here. And they are ours to tell.

But so France:

Sunday, February 4th

On the train to Clermont-Ferrand. Trains are quiet and just as romantic as you expect. Lizzie sits across from me in her new wool coat, her head resting against the window, her eyes closed restfully as the soggy French countryside drips by. Cozy on the train, the dreary grey of the French winter looks quite beautiful; the fields are still vast and green, the old houses (some no doubt older than all of Canadian civilization) cast their spells on us. 

Lizzie and I have had world-changing conversations over the last few days (as always happens when we travel–everything simmering under the surface of the quotidian has a habit of coming out when you change your surroundings). What an amazing person to be able to get to know. Pride seems an inadequate word. It is a start. 

Friday, February 9th

It’s been a very emotional week. First: feeling overwhelmed, then anxious that I wasn’t doing enough, then nervous about the screening, then very proud of my film–the acting specifically, which after seeing nearly 50 other short films this week I feel confident describing as “world-class”–then incredibly inspired by the other work on display at the festival, then anxious again about how little French I can speak and how every single meal is consequently an adventure, then elated to meet some really talented and beautiful people from Quebec, then sad that now most of them have left, then anxious again about how everything is so expensive in Europe with the Canadian dollar being what it is. Lizzie and I had a stupid fight about money last night. This morning we joked: “Money! Destroying marriages since its inception.”

I think Peak Oil belongs here, but I know I have a lot of work to do if I want to make something that will stand out at a festival like this. I think I know how to do that now, though. The next step for me if to craft something that is truly stunning from a visual storytelling perspective that doesn’t lose the vulnerability I’ve been able to draw from actors since day one. It’s funny: in some ways I was closer to the romantic/impressionistic style of movies I want to make now when I was in film school; I just had no idea who I was or wanted I wanted to make films about. I am excited to get home and get back to work. This festival came at the perfect time.

Sunday, February 11th

We are flying home. It is an odd place, where the desire for a sense of normalcy clashes with an implicit understanding that you are returning to a part of the world that has far less crackling, sizzling energy than where we’ve been. Always there is a hope that you bring some of the lightning of other places home with you, that the essence of what you admire about another place somehow might have woven itself into your clothing, and when you get home you can dress yourself with it. Like the cliché about the teacher who learns more from her pupils, the true value of traveling is often not what you see or do while you’re away, but how it informs what you see and do when you get back. 

We picked up a copy of Vincent Van Gogh’s letters from the book store at the Museé d’Orsay. This was written by Vincent in a letter to his brother Theo in 1878, before he had given himself over completely to the idea of becoming an artist. At this point, he was still convinced the he would find his place in the church, like his father before hime. But I think his words betray an insight into the nature of people and a belief in a truly spiritual vocation that organized religion could never hope to satisfy or employ correctly (as Van Gogh clearly must have decided himself):

“It is good to love as many things as one can, for therein lies true strength, and those who love much do much and accomplish much, and whatever is done with love is done well. If one is affected by some book or other…then it is because that book was written from the heart in simplicity and meekness of spirit. Better to say but a few words, but filled with meaning, than to speak many that are but idle sounds and as easy to utter as they are useless.

Love is the best and the noblest thing int he human heart, especially when it is tested by life as gold is tested by fire. Happy is he who has loved much, and is sure of himself, and although he may have wavered and doubted, he has kept that divine spark alive and returned to what was in the beginning and ever shall be.”

 

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

 

 

NOTES FROM FRANCE PT. 1


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Over the next few days I want to post some excerpts from what I scribbled down in my journal as Lizzie and I made our way through Paris and hopped a train to the 40th Festival du Court Metrage Clermont-Ferrand (Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, the largest festival in the world dedicated exclusively to shorts) where Peak Oil screened out of competition as part of Telefilm Canada’s Canada: Not Short On Talent showcase. The screening was sold out; the filmmakers who were attending their own screening had to sit on the floor.

It was my first time at a film festival of this scale. It was definitely overwhelming at first. So many people clambering for attention, gasping and reaching for anything resembling a leg up. An air of real desperation in the place. For me: a feeling like I didn’t belong and I didn’t know what I was doing. Like if I knew better or was smarter or more charming I could’ve sold my film or formed a career-changing relationship relationship with a producer. But these were not my goals, not this time, not with barely one foot in the door. My goals were to see as many short films as I could and to meet new filmmakers from across Canada and around the world. To see how my film measured up against the best short films the world has to offer, and what I need to do in the future to make a film that will truly stand out in a place like Clermont-Ferrand. In short: to learn. And I learned. I learned so much.

Friday, February 2nd

In Paris for a few days with Lizzie before we catch a train down to Clermont-Ferrand for the festival. Sitting at a small café across the street from the Museé d’Orsay where we’ve just taken in a number of paintings by Van Gogh, Maximilien Luce, Vallaton, others. My relationship with visual art is entirely different than when I was last here ten years ago. The influence of fine art on cinematography is slowly unfolding for me–I’m beginning to see with the eyes of a visual thinker now, nearly a decade into making movies. Also have a completely different understanding of/appreciation for the subjects these painters decided to portray. How much of Van Gogh’s work is pastoral, for example, or how Luce and the neo-impressionists were committed to humanism while still hoping to preserve a sense of poetry, and how this manifests in their portraits of working people and factories. In short: there is so much to learn, such a surprising amount of overlap in the reverent approach of these painters’ representations of blue-collar life in the late 19th/early 20th Centuries and the way that I’d like to photograph Edmonton. That has been the most unexpected part of this trip so far: the degree to which I find myself inspired to return to my wheelhouse, my under-photographed little corner of the world…

We walk everywhere. The way traffic works here both puzzles and astounds us. My French is enough to get us from place to place and order food and coffee without (seemingly) alienating the entire Parisian service industry. Nice to be here in the winter when there are demonstrably fewer tourists, but it’s definitely colder than either of us expected. The wet sort of cold that softens you just enough for the wind to rip through your bones…

Lizzie wears her red scarf around her shoulders like a shawl. Her face is striking, like out of one of those paintings we’ve just seen. Cigarette smoke wafts in from the street and I do not want to go back out into the cold. 

 

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

 

LETTERS


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As my wife noted on her blog earlier this week, I used to maintain that I knew nothing about poetry. Despite what Lizzie might say about my lyrics from years ago, I think that was mostly true. Before I met Lizzie, I hadn’t really opened a book of poetry since university (unless it was specifically handed to me by Joe Gurba). I used to have some ridiculous line about how poetry intentionally obfuscated emotion, that there was therefore something dishonest about it. I can only think that this must have been some kind of defence mechanism against opening myself up to something tender and real. Now, though, I live with a poet, and there are these incredible volumes lying around the apartment. I trip over them and they fall open and draw me in. The opposite of reading the morning news is to read a poem with breakfast. Instead of feeling angry and disappointed with all the potential we are collectively wasting as a species with our petty, materialistic conflicts, you will remember why you woke up in the first place.

In October, 2016, Lizzie and I had just returned from a trip through California. We had driven from Edmonton to Los Angeles, then up the coast all the way to Vancouver and back through the Rocky Mountains. Now back in my hometown, I was wandering the streets, trying to rediscover something, anything, romantic or even interesting about it. It’s common to experience a hatred or boredom with where you live after you get back from weeks away. I was facing the challenge by taking pictures, carrying my camera everywhere like a tourist. I walked to a favourite coffee shop, taking photos the whole way, searching for some undiscovered layer in my city waiting to be exposed, if I could only peel back the outer skin. At the coffee shop, I ran into an old friend who said “everyone should write poems.” I had never even thought about it. Then I wrote two or three that week. It was an unprecedented revelation for me: that it is possible to create without a camera or a crew or even a melody. I would simply scribble away, then later type these sparse phrases out and email them to Lizzie.

Just over a year later, we have a little volume of the poems we’ve emailed back and forth to one another. We called it LETTERS and you can buy it here.  Here is one written by me to perhaps pique your interest. The first poem I sent to Lizzie.

yesterday

your face is all screwed up

I can see you’ve spent the day

chewing your nails and

picking at your face sadistically

not because you’ve forgotten how to sing

but because in spite of profound resonance

and even earthquakes

plate tectonics shift too slightly

to be noticed in your lifetime

 

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

 

RAINY DAY WITH ELLA


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Some people believe in reincarnation. That there is a soul and it moves from body to body. That there are old souls who have experienced perhaps dozens of lifetimes and new souls who have experienced only a handful.

I think the greatest case to be made in favour of this view comes when you meet someone so wise beyond their years that you feel this can’t possibly be their first go-around. I remember feeling this way when I met Ella. If you haven’t heard her sing, you should listen. 

In the summer, we were going to make a little movie to coincide with the release of her latest project. But for a variety of reasons (mostly involving complete burn-out on my end), we didn’t manage to get together more than once. The other day I came across the footage from the one afternoon we hung out at her house while the camera rolled, and decided to just cut something simple out of that. A brief portrait of one rainy day in May. Mostly we talked in the kitchen while Ella did the dishes and her roommate Layne recorded a song in the basement. With all the noise you can barely hear what she’s saying, but that’s why you should listen closely. I think we could all stand to do less talking and more listening.

Hope you enjoy.

 

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB