Opening FLYING in New York has been an amazing experience unlike any other film of mine. Listening to people’s reactions during question and answer sessions, I felt more like I was participating in a new movement then in a film screening. I have been overwhelmed and moved to witness the outpouring of emotion from women (and men) testifying to recognizing their hidden lives brought to light on screen.
In the late nineties, when I began to kick around the idea of doing a film about real women’s lives today (that eventually became FLYING), I discussed the idea with a French producer friend in Paris. Like me, she was a workingwoman in the film business, ‘single’, childless, and at the time in her late thirties. (It is important to note what in a modern reference, ‘single’ means: It refers to the fact that you have no marriage status. Hence, although nether my French girlfriend nor I had almost ever technically been ‘single’ – meaning we’d both been in relationship most of our adult lives – our families and the world at large always referred to us as ‘single’.) In any case, I told my girlfriend my new idea to do a film about what it means to be a modern women and she said, “Oh yes, that is the ‘someday I’ll have life’ phenomenon. A light bulb flashed on in my head! Now, I am sure to many people this phrase would mean nothing, but to me, at that moment, it was the perfect reference to what I – and so many women I knew — were living and struggling with.
“Someday I will have a life” is the secret underlying belly of many single women in this modern world. It is the phenomenon where women pursue their free lives while all the time feeling that something is missing – which their mothers and society won’t let them forget – marriage and children. Somehow reality will only begin when the two are attained. It is the “Bridget Jones” phenomenon, where a bright, funny, working girl is miserable because she is missing the guy. Unlike the traditional stories, these narratives are now set when women are in their thirties. Now we are free to work and delay mating – marriage and childbearing – for so long that it becomes doubtful that it is possible. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t in a heartbeat turn back the clock and give up my job, my right to live and travel solo, my ’free’ sex, my birth control, or any of the trappings of a liberated woman. These rights are essential – and this is no joke. But all too often we fail to face or to investigate the shadow side of our new freedoms.
I myself was ashamed of my feelings (that “someday I would have a life”) and found them hard to articulate. I couldn’t imagine trying to broach the subject with my mother – something I never dared to do till I made FLYING, which is probably why I had to make it in the first place. Only once I had the camera firmly between us, did I have the courage to bring up my feelings of having an invisible life. To this my mom adamantly replied, “What are you talking about? Your life is the envy of everyone I know! You get up when you want, you go to bed when you want, you don’t have to cook for anyone, you travel the world – you have a great life!” To my mother’s generation, who had few of these liberties, and did in fact have to cook for her man daily (as well as many other things we don’t have to name), the freedom of my life seemed like a breeze. But what she didn’t understand is that without the trappings she struggled under, life could be incredibly lonely and without any mirrors. How do you judge your development if no one is there to witness your changes? How to you fit in a world whose first questions of any woman is still: Are you married? And, how many children do you have?
So yes, Mom, we have come a long way and no, Mom, we haven’t! For many women like me, there is surely the other side of all that choice. Despite freedoms, old values die hard, or even more truthfully, they never die: I was haunted by an underlying feeling that I had failed as a woman, because I hadn’t married and didn’t have kids – yet. Because, the other notion of the modern world is that: “of course eventually you will settle down and become responsible” (again meaning marriage and kids). In a modern world, getting old is rarely brought up.
This means that during all your free twenties and into your thirties that eventually the prince charming fantasy, the Cinderella story, will kick in and you will end up happily-ever-after. Because all (and I mean all) girls grow up with this story. It is a narrative that is inescapable, since it is littered through every magazine, book, TV show, and movie available in the world today. So, no matter how progressive your family of origin may have been, every child learns the story that a woman only truly fulfills herself when she finds the perfect mate and settles down. The pressure of this voice grows and grows as one gallops through ones thirties and faces the big 4-0. Now. as retro as this may sound, and as dangerous as it is to bring it up, it the story that I have found underlying every so-called “free woman”.
(And by the way, I don’t think this is a heterosexual phenomenon. My lesbian friends seem to be living with the same story and on the same schedule. They also seem to feel the need to marry to find a place in the world; it doesn’t seem to matter whether the marriage partner has a male or female face. They want to settle down and have the big relationship and the children. So, when one of my close girlfriend’s decided to ‘pop the marriage question’ to her girlfriend, she got down on one knee and brought out the ring! As far as I can tell, the fantasy exists despite our liberation in all senses. This is something I would love to hear more voices on….)
Making FLYING was my way to face this issue of “waiting for Godot”. It was my way to examine what I had and compare it to others and acknowledge that it had value – by itself — and despite the fact that I didn’t have the traditional trappings of man and children. Making the film actually broke the fantasy that another life would be better; it made me realize I was living the life I wanted and that if I had a man or a child it would be ‘my way’; I didn’t have to fit into the normative behavior I had previously tried and failed to squeeze myself into. I think that the reason FLYING resonates powerfully is because it is a description of a real modern female life – with all its joy, confusions, conflicts and trappings. It seems that every screening I attended in New York City, women came up to me and said – “you have described my life – how did you know my story?” The other day I was walking in Broadway at 23rd Street and a young woman stopped me in the middle of the street and said, “I saw the film…. And you know, I want all my friends to see it now, so they can finally understand me!”
Now, I look forward to taking FLYING around the country and discussing with women young and old the, “someday I will have a life” phenomenon and sharing with each other the joys and struggles of the lives we really have now. I look forward to debunking the myths that haunt women everywhere – and talking about the parts of the story we want to keep and those we want to discard.
Does the idea of, “someday I will have a life” resonate with you? I would love to hear….
*Readers key: In a modern reference, ‘single’ can mean with or without boyfriend or girlfriend, but only refers to one’s marriage status.