Fran and I are proud to be partners with the fantastic team behind michigan, and invited screenwriter Mickey Solis to talk about the film. For more information check out the michigan website, blog, twitter and instagram.
My name is Mickey Solis. I’m an actor and screenwriter. I’ve been invited to write a guest blog in support of my forthcoming film titled michigan. The film is about (among other things) suicide, depression, addiction, and the difficult path toward self-realization. This film was inspired by the small town in Michigan where I grew up, by tragic events that took place there, and by some of the thoughts and feelings I became obsessed with later in life about that time and place. Around age 30 I began addressing parts of my emotional life in more creative and healthy ways. That is when I started to conceive this film. It is meant to be a curative journey through the traumatized psyche of a fictional character.
As a graduate student at the drama institute at Harvard University, I met and became close friends with the Hungarian film and theater director János Szász. We have since collaborated on many theatrical productions dealing with “dark” subjects. He is also the author of several acclaimed hard-hitting foreign films. He was the one who encouraged me to write my first screenplay and has guided me throughout the process.
I try to avoid describing my film. Writing in black and white about a film is difficult. I wrote what I imagined would become sounds and images inside a frame that others would watch and hear. Films can also be highly subjective experiences; individual people can have wildly different views and attitudes when watching the same film. For example, I don’t experience most modern “comedy” as being funny. In fact, I find a lot of humor in theater, film, and television frightening. I also tend to laugh my way through most genre “horror” movies. Thus, I’m different from the average audience member.
This is not to say that my film will only be for weirdos like me, or is impossible to comprehend. I’m just saying up front that I’ve never thought that the general audience would have an easy time digesting a film about teenage suicide in the way I’m presenting it, or that any perceived “message” of the film would be universal. The topics and events depicted in my script are polarizing and so the margin for misinterpretation is wide. However, if a spectator sees my film and walks away with a feeling of wonder, or a sense that this story touches him or her, that they feel known somehow by the filmmakers, or that they relate to the spiritual, emotional, or psychological circumstances of the story in a way that helps them feel less alone — these would all be terrifically ideal. Nonetheless, my suspicion is that reactions to the film will vary substantially.
The result of a successful drama, in Aristotle’s definition, is catharsis; the feeling that the weight of existence has been lifted and emotional burdens released. It is a charitable goal aimed at relieving the audience of ignorance and therefore of pain. Catharsis necessitates a journey through hardship, and I don’t believe a film must have by definition a “happy” ending to be cathartic, which is maybe the biggest disparity in tastes between the majority and myself. Tragedy actually makes comedy possible; there is no light without darkness.
Catharsis, for me, may also come in the form of a rewarding mystification. It occurs when a filmmaker acknowledges human depth and complexity, observes the most unspeakable aspects of the human character, and as a result I experience a profound relationship to the film on frighteningly intimate levels. Stanley Kubrick and Ingmar Bergman were masters of this. Their films confront me with psychological paradoxes and confound me with existential challenges. The result of which is that I experience greater awareness, awe, and a relief from unconscious and self-imposed limitations.
This is a completely different approach from that of sentimentalizing the subject, or, worse, denying tragedy altogether. Denial in extreme is neurosis, and most popular media is in deep denial. Hence, the popular culture itself is suffering from a form of collective mental illness. As a result, contemporary art in this country has become frustratingly passive, repressive, and mournfully insignificant.
Not merely entertainment, film can also inspire huge emotional and personal growth. In its most sophisticated forms, film art promotes and expands consciousness — that is the goal of the advanced artist. The quality that links the greatest and most sublime films is intelligent compassion.
The story in the michigan film is motivated by heavy topics, and its imagery is quite lush and sometimes violent. These aspects of the film are necessary to communicate truth, verify passions, and validate the main character’s triumph over suffering. I cannot imagine a war film that does not strive to depict a valid threat to human life. Likewise, a film about mental illness must attempt to illustrate a legitimate threat to sanity.
One of the transcendentalists, Emerson or Thoreau (I don’t remember which), wrote “A man doesn't fully appreciate the beauty of the moon until it is needed to light his path in the darkness” (or something like that). But the sentiment is clear: beautiful things are more beautiful when our need for them is increased. Films that articulate disorder with intricacy and elegance are attractive to me because I need them to guide me through the dark, not around it.
Films can be therapeutic, but what moves people can be very esoteric. Artists and filmmakers should always question their relationship to formulas and dogma of any kind and be skeptical of anything that promises a specific result — that is how we advance. Every major movement in film history stood for this philosophy.
I’m not advocating rebellion so much as I am saying that, in the realm of the soul, it behooves us all to maintain a genuine dedication to open-mindedness. When filmmakers attempt a novel approach to making personal dramas about taboo subjects, their greatest opponent will be the lack of open-mindedness. The strongest impulse of public opinion will be to suppress the thing it finds unpleasant rather than confront it. There are stigmas attached to dramas about depression, addiction, and suicide in the film industry, mainly that they are not appealing (commercial) enough to be supported.
The michigan film has been very lucky. We have a committed team of producers, artists, and administrators who recognize the value of tackling difficult material and the importance of art with deeper-than-average goals. In particular, producer Jordan Levine has been instrumental in taking the issues of the film out into the public as part of our mission, and I admire his dedication.
Several large organizations have also voiced their support. We hope the partnerships will be mutually beneficial in raising awareness for our causes. The production and publicity team is composed of young people and adults who have personal experiences with suicide, or have friends and loved ones dealing with depression and mental illness.
Witnessing something you created having a positive effect on people feels good. Knowing that others resonate with your work in a way they find valuable and encouraging is a gift. The most rewarding part of this project so far has been the worldwide support we’ve received and the encouragement to continue on a journey full of challenges.