Something Like a Sabbatical (the film enters the world)

This weekend we will screen our newly completed documentary film SOMETHING LIKE A SABBATICAL to an audience for the first time. We’re so excited!

SLAS coverThe documentary film is the wise, funny, and inspiring story of Sue Mitchell’s 52-week sabbatical, when she decides it’s time to find out if she can be the artist she’s wanted to be for 35 years. Little does she know that 52 giant Montezuma Bald Cypress trees will become her teachers. Little does Riverside Art Museum realize how popular the four-month exhibit of Sue’s work will be a year later. In November 2013, we went to see Sue Mitchell’s “52” exhibit. A month later, we returned with a camera to begin shooting SOMETHING LIKE A SABBATICAL, a film that magically turns one woman’s story into every dreamer’s story. As Drew Oberjuerge, Executive Director, Riverside Art Museum says, “Sue Mitchell’s inspiring story makes us realize that it is never too late to get rid of our fears and heed our creative calling.”

I have been thinking back to the moment when the film idea landed in my head and heart. We were driving home after walking through Sue’s two-gallery exhibit at the Riverside Art Museum. The exquisite solar etchings of the giant Montezuma Bald Cypress trees had been in one gallery and Sue’s day-to-day sabbatical was revealed in a swirl of calendar pages, photographs, sketches, journal entries, and trash (you have to see the film to understand) in the adjoining gallery. It was beautiful and inspiring and humorous and bold and surprising! It stirred up an irrational feeling I haven’t had in a long time: I wanted to make a film about this adventure. All films begin from an irrational place. I say that because films are difficult to make. They’re complicated and costly and consuming. But I see now that I needed to tell this story about not giving up on our dreams, no matter how afraid we are. As we began editing, Sue’s story started taking on a life of its own. This is what it said in different ways:

Be the person you want to be.

Be the person you can be.

Be the person you dreamed about being.

Don’t give up.  

Here are a few of the things that helped me tap into the universal elements of Sue Mitchell’s story.

miss rumphius by barbara cooneyI was immediately reminded of the affecting children’s book Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. The story of Alice Rumphius who longed to travel the world, live in a house by the sea, and do something to make the world more beautiful, reminded me of Sue Mitchell who longed to be an artist. Instead of planting lupines like Miss Rumphius, Sue Mitchell fell deeply in love with 52 Montezuma Bald Cypress trees in Riverside’s Fairmount Park. And then she made the world more beautiful by sharing that love with us.

I have always been interested in learning and I’ve wondered why some people have a deep and stubborn desire to keep learning and some people don’t. I read John W. Gardner’s interesting book Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society and found this interesting quote that I kept inside my production binder. This single quote inspired all of the questions I asked Sue while filming.

One of the reasons mature people are apt to learn less than young people is that they are willing to risk less. Learning is a risky business.

Here was Sue Mitchell who was inspiring to me because she wanted to see if she could learn to be an artist, even if it was risky business. I might add, she was also incredibly generous and honest in answering all of my questions, including some really difficult ones.

Then I found these comics. I loved the humor and truth in this one:

sabbatical comic

It’s just like Sue discovered: The more you look, the more you see. And I love the gentle truth of this Calvin & Hobbes comic:

sabbatical from comic

We need to stop what we’ve been doing sometimes to realize new things.

Then there was our family’s personal story. Our family took something like a sabbatical a few years ago. We decided to home school our daughter Natalie during her 7th and 8th grade years. We used to refer to the two years as a “middle school sabbatical.” Now we call it “the best thing we ever did.” Sue Mitchell has her own unique way of saying the same thing. You’ll have to watch the film to hear her say it… 🙂  You’ll know what she means.

The DVD of the film can be purchased here. For more info about the film click here.


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