By Sam Zalutsky, Spalding MFA Screenwriting Faculty
I used to read the New York Times cover to cover, every day. I’d start with the Sports pages (no lie!) and then move on to business, and then arts, and finally open the first section. Sometimes it was a challenge to take in all the events happening around the world, but I was raised by parents who saw the Times as the great American truth-teller, the arbiter of the news that mattered. And despite its many biases, it really is a great paper.
We got the daily subscription in Portland, Oregon, when I was in high school as soon as it became available, and since college I’ve subscribed pretty consistently. My father still reads it cover to cover every day. For both of us, it is a type of addiction, a feeling of absence when we don’t read it. But lately I’ve needed a break; reading the news is too much to bear. And it’s not even the “fake news.” I like to know what’s going on. But I also realize that the truth can be hard sometimes and that I need to protect myself and put a buffer between me and the news. But it doesn’t mean that I am not interested in the truth. I think I’m just more interested right now in other kinds of truth, the truth that we writers know a lot about. It’s the truth of art, the truth of connection with others, the truth of nature, the truth of shared experience. It is something I think we do at Spalding really well and I think it’s something that is even more important when basic norms of our society are being upturned daily.
One reason I love the Spalding MFA so much is that our residencies are intense times where these other truths prevail. And I encourage everyone to find other times and places to experience these truths as well.
In September I participated in two events that reinforced my need for these truths. First I went to Ft. Collins, Colorado, where I had a photograph in a group show called Center Forward at the Center for Fine Art Photography. I had never been to Fort Collins, a beautiful town full of college students, wide streets, bars with live music, and outdoor enthusiasts. I randomly chose an Airbnb where my host is an adventure photographer, so we spent mornings on her back porch drinking coffee and talking about photography. She and her adorable dog spend months at a time camping and hiking around the West, taking photos (her, not her dog). I loved breathing in the clean air with her in the mornings and I loved hearing about her life, which is so different from my own in New York City.
At the show were probably ten other photographers from many different places: New Jersey, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Boston, Boulder. We ranged in age (I think) from our 20s into our 60s, straight, gay, men, women, mainly white and Asian. We all met the night of the opening when hundreds of people came through as part of the city’s first Friday celebration. Two college students enthusiastically interviewed me about my work for their photography class. And the following day the other photographers and I were able to share our work with each other (kind of like a workshop), opening a larger discussion about our processes and goals. Each artist’s work was very different, but it was exciting to share our themes that we were working and the similarities and differences in our work. Although it was just one weekend, I felt a strong connection to the other photographers and know I have expanded my community further. Those connections might be fleeting, but they were real and they were true.
After Ft. Collins I attended the Klamath Independent Film Festival in Klamath Falls, Oregon, for a special screening of Seaside. Despite growing up in Oregon, I had never been to Klamath Falls, a sweet little town near the California border. I drove up from San Francisco with my husband and two friends. We stopped at the Lava Beds National Monument near the Oregon border and spent an incredible day visiting Crater Lake, which has some of the bluest water I have ever seen. To say something looked like a movie feels increasingly cliche yet these blues looked like they had been digitally enhanced. But it was real and it was true.
But the film festival was the real reason I was there. There were all types of films, features and shorts, documentaries and fiction, but everyone there had a connection to Oregon and were making work about Oregon. The opportunity to show my work to local Oregon audiences and other Oregon filmmakers was a real gift. There were filmmakers of all ages, from high school into their sixties and local film fans who don’t have many opportunities to see independent film on the big screen. What brought us together was a love of storytelling and art and a very special part of the world.
After just a few days of sharing our work, we returned to our regular lives and I returned to New York, a very different place. But my time in Southern Oregon was real and it was true. A different kind of truth from the constant news cycle and a truth that feels more essential today than ever.
Sam Zalutsky recently completed his second feature, Seaside, a thriller set on the Oregon Coast. For his first feature, You Belong to Me, he was shortlisted for the Independent Spirit Award’s Someone to Watch Award. The film, available on iTunes and Amazon, and won the Audience Award, Best First Feature at San Diego FilmOut. Sam has directed second unit on two true crime shows, including Emmy-winner A Crime to Remember. His short film How to Make it to the Promised Land premiered on Shortoftheweek.com. He also directed and produced the comedy web series The Go-Getters. Sam earned his BA in studio art from Yale and his MFA in film from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and is on twitter and instagram @zalutsky. He teaches screenwriting in Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing program. Visit Zalutsky’s website here.