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Turning the camera on yourself

Posted at 2:27 PM on March 23, 2006 by Euan Kerr

My daughter snagged the screener of "Following Sean" just after I watched it a couple of weeks ago. She came back a couple of hours later, announcing a) she wanted to be a filmmaker, and b) she wanted to be French.

This latter pronouncement was because she had been so taken by the panache of director Ralph Arlyck's wife, Elisabeth, who is French, and appears throughout the documentary.

When I told him about what had happened, Arlyck laughed and apologized for the filmmaker desire. He also explained why he decided to include his own family's experiences in "Following Sean" which is a follow-up to a short film he made in 1969.

He was living at the time in the Haight-Ashbury of San Francisco. He needed to do an interview for a film class, and he picked Sean, the four year old son of the family living on the top floor of his building.

It started off as a cute little chat about life from a 4 year old perspective, but when Sean announced that he smoked grass, Arlyck realized he had some dynamite material. The finished film garnered a lot of attention, (Truffaut loved it, and it was screened at the White House,) but Arlyck left San Francisco soon after.

Three and a half decades later he decided to go back to see what had happened to Sean, and maybe make a movie. The film quickly changed though when he found Sean was doing remarkably well, despite all the predictions made about his dire future when the original film came out. Arlyck began exploring the influence of Sean's family, and then as time passed his own experiences with his parents, wife and kids began to edge in too.

Arlyck says he realizes using his own family has to be done carefully, for oh-so-many reasons, not least of which are accusations of self-indulgence.

"'Why do we want to hear about you? What is so interesting about you?'" he asked aloud when we talked. "But I guess I feel that if you can do it in the right kind of way it invites the audience to think about their own lives, which I assume can be potentially a rich experience."

The film raises some intriguing questions about the power of family, the meaning of work, and the importance and implications of freedom. Arlyck will no doubt talk about it all when he introduces the film at the Bell Auditorium in Minneapolis on Friday evening.

Meanwhile I think my daughter has forgotten about becoming a filmmaker. I'm not so sure about the being French part though.

March 2006
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