Near the end of Summer 2008, I read a collection of short stories by Nam Le entitled The Boat. I had heard about the book through Esquire magazine, which I read religiously since age 14 - a habit I have since abandoned. Le's stories made an enormous impression on me and without much hesitation, I wrote to him. He wrote back almost immediately and - among other things - recommended that I take a class with either or both of his writer friends John Bresland and Eula Biss. A year later, I would discover that John Bresland was offering a course on the subject of "Video Essays." I had been obsessed with Chris Marker's work in non-fiction - in particular SANS SOLEIL (1983) - and stunned by what Orson Welles said about his experience making F FOR FAKE (1973):
"When I finished F FOR FAKE, I thought I had discovered a new kind of movie - and it was the kind of movie I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. I really thought I was on to something. It's a form. In other words, the essay, the personal essay as opposed to documentary. Not a documentary at all." - Orson Welles
Bresland's course was the one I had been waiting for my entire academic career. I went to his office, introduced myself, expressed interest in enrolling. He asked me if I was an English major. No. He asked me if I had enrolled in the pre-requisite course in poetry. Also no. He sighed and said that there would be no way for me to enroll. I pressed on. I said something dramatic like "I promise you that there is nobody on this campus more excited about the subject of video essays than I am." And that did it. And - up there with Jacqueline Stewart's symposium on Spike Lee's filmography in which I enrolled in 2007 - it was the best and most rewarding class I have ever taken.
Our final project in Bresland's class was to create a full-on video essay, a complete and polished piece. I put more time, effort, and thought into this project than almost anything else I did while at Northwestern. But that is at least partially because I had tried - and failed - twice before to adequately express my feelings about its subject - the summer that I spent in Prague during Summer 2008. The experience was transformative and my first time out of the country. It was important that the third time be the charm. And, thankfully, it was. But - until now - only a small handful of people have seen it. Not even all of my fellow classmates ever saw it because we never managed to arrange a screening for all of the final projects. And following the only public(-ish) screening in Telluride, CO, I gave the only physical copy of the film to a girl who afterwards told me "I liked your film best" and kissed me.
Its availability here on LA Ciné Salon and on YouTube is not any kind of a milestone, but is rather simply more of me trying to follow the advice of Menahem Golan. I hope that it brings you some joy or, at least, entertainment.
- Samuel B. Prime
Founder, LA Ciné Salon