One of the things I do (both for a living and also as a mission in life) is help communities tell their stories with the purpose of pushing forward social change. I work with groups, but also individuals, who use media (film, writing, theater) to share personal and cultural stories. I’ve coached hundreds of writers and performers as they’ve prepared to do their work on stage-many of whom were telling deeply personal stories about sexuality and gender in the storytelling series BedPost Confessions, or who were working on one-person comedy shows. Each of those communities have gone on to launch careers, marriages, self-discovery and more.
I’ve consulted with a variety of non-profits on small scale projects primarily focused on the work of the body (think reproductive justice, LGBTQ rights, anti racism work, aging and dying) because those stories matter and are stories that need their place in the world elevated. I’ve also been lucky enough to help raise funds for several incredible documentaries and fiction films which are pushing the boundaries of storytelling and building communities to talk about important and difficult things.
I’m always observing how good communities are built and sustained (so the better these stories can be told and the more of the change in our culture can be made). It’s not easy holding space and nurturing participants. I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on a masterful community building experience led by Juliet Landau and her husband Deverill Weekes as part of the impact promotion the film A Place Among The Dead. Not only was the community building process a strong model for what can be done online and with Zoom, but the film itself is an excellent example of using both fictional and non fiction narratives to shift cultural beliefs.
A Place Among The Dead is a film about vampires. It is a film about narcissism. It is a hybrid of documentary and narrative and weaves a bridge between the two with “Jules” as both a protagonist and documentary subject.
I have been a fan of horror for a very long time-it’s probably my favorite genre not only for thrills but for what it says about our world and of course, how we say it. Vampires are always compelling for their symbolism of invasion, of control, of narcissism. We live in a culture with a focus on celebrity (this is even stronger than it was in years past) and we are drained-we consume, or are consumed, even as many of us create work online to be seen. More and more, we are discovering that narcissists are real, they are prevalent and they might be your neighbor. Your parent. Your co-worker. This is not just someone in your life being vain — this is a set of traits such as exaggerated sense of self-importance, excessive need for admiration, superficial and exploitative relationships, lack of empathy, difficulty with attachment and dependency, chronic feelings of emptiness and boredom, vulnerability to life transitions.As such these people can be damaging in minor ways or to an extreme.
This film was enthralling, strange, compelling, clearly very personal, and spoke to the ideas of obsession, celebrity, inner doubt created by these narcissistic forces, and ultimately, a form of self destruction married to a destroyer. It’s not a “traditional” narrative and invoked images from David Lynch, Hitchcock, and Kubrick. It was hard, in some ways, on the viewer, the gaze was relentless.
So it was wonderful enough to find a film that did used narrative to point out things that need to change in our world-but come to find out Landau and Weekes have used their platforms to gather community (friends of the film, fans, experts on narcissism) to discuss the film. These gatherings have been on Zoom and while discussion of the film occurs, what I witnessed was far more of that. Conversations that might normally be ended by the host at about one hour go on for up to four hours, with the participants sharing vulnerable stories about how narcissism has affected their lives. It was clear that several of the participants had been to other talks and knew each other. There was an easy back and forth between the producing team (Landau and Weekes), actors in the film (there were several in my session along with Landau who directed and starred), and community members.
Landau built a narrative piece with a purpose, created an impact campaign to support the film, but I would think even more important to her, was to support survivors of narcissistic abuse and to envision a world where that kind of suffering is exposed and then healed.
You can find out more by visiting the films Facebook Page and you can here more from Landau here at Your Money Geek, where she talks about the impact the film has had. She says, “The response has been so powerful and beautiful. At our sneak peeks, many people came out crying. The entire audience stayed for over two hours to talk about the film and then everyone began sharing intensely personal stories. At our special screening events, each interactive each time the entire audience has hung out on Zoom for nearly four hours talking about the movie and again, sharing extremely personal stories.
We made the movie to open up a dialogue. It has been profound to be at this juncture with the film and to have that happen. People that don’t come from this kind of background, relate in different kinds of ways. They’ve had experiences with an ex-husband, an ex-girlfriend, a boss, a friend, a relative. Clearly, at this particular moment, where narcissism, cruelty, and evil actions are escalating in our society, it was timely, relevant and a searingly important discussion to be having.”
These conversations are worth having because if our stories aren’t told, they curdle inward and create more of these dangerous dynamics. Our media can either promote these stories that push us outward seeing each other as we focus on social change, or they can mirror back in on us causing us to obsess on our own reflection until we lose ourselves. The choice is ours, and I’m glad to be able to work on the former. Spending a Saturday with Landau, Weekes and team was good work.
Photo Credit Flicker Creative Commons Robbie Sproule