The most rewarding feedback I received after making Falling Forward, was that it is a brave film. And although I’m not always great at taking a compliment, this one I own.
Falling Forward is a brave film. The process of making it pushed me out of my comfort zone in just about every way imaginable. This film was my first, and it’s full of mistakes. Some of the footage is over exposed, I still cringe during the parts where my camera jitters or the sound levels are a little low. I see these flaws every time I watch the film, and sure, there’s a part of me that winces and wishes them gone. Wishes my film looked more slick, more high gloss, like the Vimeo / Netflix aesthetic we’ve all grown so accustomed too. But the bigger part of me is ok with these “mistakes” because they are a visualization of process, of growth; they are an important part of my film. They are are me, falling forward, in real time.
I remember after a day of filming with Jane Marx (my subject, my star) I was trying to come up with a title for our film. I was mulling over some of the amazing lines Jane had said to the camera that day. I knew our title had to come from a "Jane-ism". Jane is a walking fountain of wisdom, but with a New York City edge. She’ll say things like “Caroline! We're all going to die, so let's have some fun!” Or “Drink more, dust less.” (Jane could have her own line of funny cocktail napkins). But I kept returning to something she’d said to me off camera that day. “Without risk you’re not living." Jane told me. "Taking no risk is the biggest risk of all. Just move forward. Mistakes are inevitable. I applaud them! It doesn’t have to be pretty! You can fall on your ass! Just fall forward Caroline! As long as you are falling forward, you’re alive.”
This film is both Jane and I, falling forward. Jane had to step outside of her comfort zone and trust me as a director. She had to face her age. Her body. I asked her to let me film her in the shower, in her nightgown, I asked her not to tidy her space for me, I asked her to take me on her adventures and let me capture her solitary moments as well. Our trust in each other and our deep respect for one another is what makes this film so authentic, warts and all. It is a film full of deep love that has nothing to do with romance or as Jane would say "Hallmark card nonsense."
I didn't know when I started filming Jane that this film would be about grief. I met Jane at a time when I still struggled to say out loud that my brother had died. I couldn’t talk about what I was experiencing without crying, and so I avoided talking about it most of the time. I thought Jane, with her exuberance and bold colours, would be the perfect distraction from my pit of sadness. I, like so many, was so attracted to her energy; like a moth to the light. When Jane revealed to me shortly after I began filming her, that she had lost her brother, who also happened to be her favourite person in the world, to AIDS, I knew what our film wanted to be about, I just didn’t know if I had the courage to make it. I've heard documentary filmmakers say you often set out to make one documentary and end up making a different one and it's true. Through tears welling in my eyes and a frog in my throat I told Jane I too had lost my brother, just months ago, to cancer. That moment is the moment I took a leap, free falling forward. That was the first moment I stepped into my grief. That was the moment I started using film not only as a tool for artistic expression, but also for healing. I wasn’t only directing Jane, but my own grieving process as well. From behind the camera, I asked Jane about death, about loss, about how to survive in the world without your favourite person in it. And she gave me answers. Unlike most, Jane doesn’t mince words when it comes to death. She says it like it is. "You'll never get over it hunny." She didn’t tell me it would be okay and that it gets easier, she knew from living it, that this is not how this kind of loss works. But what she did teach me was how to find joy despite the heartbreak, how to look at death, acknowledge it, cry over it and then laugh at it too. She showed me we don’t have to tippy toe around grief and more importantly that we shouldn’t. We can be brave and bold and colourful in our sadness. Our film and my friendship with Jane, is a testament to the incredible rewards that come from being brave and authentic in ourselves, especially in pain.
There is a moment in our film where I am talking to Jane about how much I miss laughing with my brother, how much I miss our inside jokes and she tells me the only way to cope is to put it into my art. And so I did. I put my brother Blake in the film, and her brother Paul. Blake’s music is the soundtrack to Falling Forward. His compositions are also raw and unpolished. He never got the chance to finish them. He made them when he was sick. And so when our film goes to festivals, and reaches audiences across the country, Blake and Paul are part of its success too. We are rejoicing with them. Our film is a collaboration with them too.
Falling Forward showed me that the most painful things in life can be used as fuel. That vulnerability really is courage and that if you are a creative person (and I think we all are, deep down) and you’re brave enough to express it authentically than you have an incredible super power: the alchemy of turning the hardest things imaginable into beauty. It’s going to hurt, and you’ll fall on your ass (more than once), but you’ll be moving through it. Metabolizing it and come out stronger because of it. It can be messy. When it comes to matters of the heart, there is no such thing as perfection. Just be brave and fall forward.
CAROLINE MACFARLANE is an artist, filmmaker and urbanist from Toronto, Canada. After working as director of Ignite gallery at OCAD University (Toronto) for five years, and designing numerous public art projects, she moved to New York City to deepen her education in social justice, urban design, collaborative art practices and filmmaking at The New School.