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May 19, 2024

Wayfinding

Wayfinding Poster

What happens when you turn the page in the book of your life and it’s blank?

The journey of two artists who learn to navigate from here to there in an uncertain world through loss, change and art.


A short documentary film by Bob Sacha


Director’s Statement

Like many people, I thought I had my life pretty well planned out. Until my world came crashing down.

In the past I had carefully figured out my next steps, the details of what I was going to do every time I changed jobs or careers. For some reason, when I left my last job, I turned the page in the book that was my life and it was blank. I was completely and utterly lost, unsure where to go next. I started to panic.

You might be hearing this from your friends, too.  The month I finished this film we learned that the United States has fallen out of the top 20 happiest countries for the first time since a global ranking began in 2012.  Among the 143 countries surveyed, the U.S. ranked 62nd for people under 30. Similar findings have emerged in Britain and Canada.

https://happiness-report.s3.amazonaws.com/2024/WHR+24.pdf

I wanted to find answers and calm my panic.  I started reading, a lot, and this is how I discovered wayfinding, or  how we get from here to there in the world. It can be as simple as the arrivals/departures sign at the airport or as complex as the mental map that allows us to get to work or  walk back home in the dark. 

My sources ranged from the very practical Lost Person Behavior: A search and rescue guide on where to look – for land, air and water by Robert J. Koester to the elegiac, poetic and thoughtful A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit. My readings contributed directly to the film, from the structure and chapter headings to the visual poetry.

I tested my own type of aversion therapy, finding a place in New York City with no discernible landmarks where I could get lost over and over again and try to calm my panic through repetition. I came to understand why Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park, created just a place: “This was the Ramble, a wild garden, densely planted and laced with intricate pathways that crossed and then recrossed, switched and then switched back, until a person was hopelessly lost, and that was the fun of it.” (From Genius Of Place The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted by Justin Martin.)

I discovered the work of the subject of my film,  Lisa Lee Freeman, at her senior thesis art show in 2022. Her project was called How to Get Lost: A Manual and a Map.  It was a mixed-media installation that included a book of essays and three large-scale, abstract artworks on paper and canvas. 

It was her artistic answer to what I had been wrestling with on my own, a reflection of what I had been doing with my wayfinding.

I decided to make the film a collaboration, wanting to disrupt the traditional journalistic one-way street between filmmaker and subject where the filmmaker has all the control.  I pitched the film and format to Lisa and shared transcripts of all of our conversations (we did no formal interviews).  I shared all cuts of the film for her feedback. 

In her previous life, Lisa was a very demanding magazine editor and TV personality, but as an artist she was the perfect collaborator. This film is my vision, but it’s influenced by our conversations and Lisa’s feedback and ideas.

It’s also greatly influenced by the editor, Kate Emerson. We had many conversations about the idea of the film and what I wanted it to say. And then I handed off a massive hard drive with footage from my wanderings, long days staring out my window and LIsa’s working sessions. She returned a first cut that went beyond what I had imagined and deep into what I had been dreaming.

One of the things I love about nonfiction work is that you never know what will happen during filming. It challenges you to turn mistakes and near-disasters into successes. It could be a rip or an accidentally crushed camera but only now do I realize that uncertainty—that getting lost and the challenge of figuring it out— is one of the things that draws me to this work.

I hope viewers can take away some ideas of how Lisa continually returns to being lost —starting each piece with a random pour of ink that it’s impossible to predict—as she creates her work. From making this film, I hope I learned to “navigate lostness,” as Lisa calls it.  I still get lost in the Ramble, but I’m learning to enjoy it a bit more each time.

Bob Sacha, March 2024

Director’s Biography

Bob Sacha is a NYC- based director, cinematographer, editor and teacher. He was the cinematographer for “NSA Files: Decoded,” which won a Pulitzer, an Emmy and a Webby. His first documentary short, “Blind Sight,”   about a group of blind photographers, had its world premiere at DOCNYC. He directed, shot and produced it.

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