Filmmaking and Storytelling
by Oronike Odeleye

From the writer: I try to write from my personal experience. This project was great for me because it allowed me to explore different aspects of myself. Writing is a process of self-discovery. It's about opening your mind to the public. It's a scary process.

From the editors: A marriage of writing and filmmaking makes this piece memorable. The writer mixes images and recollections in order to tell her own story. The reader cannot help but to enjoy the telling.

From the teacher: "Filmmaking and Storytelling" is in response to a Writing Studio 1 assignment that asked students to write a narrative detailing some aspect of their intellectual development. Oronike opens her narrative with a scene so vividly constructed that you will feel you are watching a movie. This scene then folds into another. Next, they both dissolve into an explanation. What's going on here? Oronike, a filmmaker, applied her craft to words, resulting in an essay that blends filmmaking and storytelling in both theme and structure, and reveals her extraordinary journey to become an artist.

It was fall. New York fall, full of reds and golds and browns. His ankle length double-breasted coat whipped and fluttered in the cool wind. He pulled it closer to him and shoved his hands deeper into the pockets. He found himself tapping his feet against the marble floor. He was excited. The train was very late. He'd been here for almost an hour but his excitement had not lessened. Every five minutes or so he would walk to the edge of the platform and look down the tracks for that faint light coming toward him. He looked down and caught a glimpse of himself in his newly shined shoes. He was smiling. Finally, he heard a whistle in the distance. Hurriedly, he straightened his hat and smoothed his coat down. It was important that he look good and prosperous and different, for he was. Slowly, the train came into the station. He backed up to get a better view as the first rush of people came off the train. Like anxious ants they bunched together, then dispersed, met and lost each other again in the crowds, went up stairs and down escalators and were gone. Way down at the other end of the platform he saw him. Looking lost and alone with only a cardboard suitcase and greasy lunch bag. He started to walk toward him and found he wanted to run. Coming finally upon him, they stare at each other, each one in disbelief. Slowly he lifts up his hand and snatches the stretched out and broken straw hat off the traveler's head and throws it onto the tracks. "Welcome to the Big City, brother," he says at last. They embrace in a rush of tears and laughter and turn to go home. The End.

And so the story is over and I am kissed and hugged and given my last cup of milk and told that I am loved and kissed again and, "No, not one more story," and sent off to bed. Once there, I think about trains and first meetings. I close my eyes and picture my grandfather coming off that train, scared of the city yet hating the country, hoping for the better times his brother had promised over hushed and stolen moments on the phone. I rearrange the stories and put myself on that platform waiting for my grandfather, full of fifties' sophistication, ready to show him the ropes in an unforgiving city. I make myself grown, beautiful, tall, voluptuous, waiting for a lover who speaks French to come off the train and wrap me in his arms and "Yes I'm still awake." I lie in bed late nights creating scenes, doing retakes, editing out mishaps and discovering that I want to become a filmmaker.

A creator of visions, constructor of stories, a visual poet. I capture moments of life forever on celluloid and shine light through them, illuminating what was once hidden. I tell my stories. They are the only ones that I know. They were passed to me across dinner tables and neatly folded in Bibles. I am nothing if not a collection of old and newly emerging stories. I came to Syracuse University to learn how to present my stories in an ordered, articulate and creative fashion. As a child I found that I had so much to say I often said nothing so it didn't come out confused. I hid all the joy and pain of my life inside until I couldn't take it anymore. In a huge rush my stories came flooding out of my mouth and eyes and fingers into Kleenexes and shoulders and legal-sized bleached white paper. The biggest pain of my adolescence became the creative fuel of my self-discovery.

Once upon a time, I guess. Nothing's right. Everybody's timing is off and hellos get read as aggression and every now and then a parent hugs you for no reason. I stay in my room and hope the awkwardness will pass. It usually does. My sisters and I have waited out the door-slamming and silence before. This time weeks have gone by. My mother says very little and my silly jokes and overt affection don't work like they should. I wonder if I'm losing my touch. They always work. I can usually coax a smile, divert her with a quick change of subject and she's good to go. Nothing doing this time. "Go read," she says, absentmindedly shooing me away. So I do. I retreat into the world of Pillars of the Earth where the bad guys eventually die horrible deaths and the good guys win love and money and castles and . . . I'm interrupted for a family meeting. Not a good sign. My sisters and I file down the stairs to the family room where I take my usual position laying on a pillow on the floor. My father's words are tense and measured and I immediately block them out. My mother interjects. "We have something to say to you all." In my mind, I remember something shutting down and I repeat over and over, "Say whatever you want as long as you don't say you're getting a divorce." My chant doesn't work, and my parents announce their separation. I blink a million times and will my eyes to swallow those stupid tears so help me God. My parents begin the obligatory cooing and cajoling and, "We still love you very much," but I don't hear it. My eyes are closed but I can feel my mothers' eyes on me. She knows that I am picturing the future. I'm envisioning hushed arguments on the phone, biweekly visitations, and the ever dreaded, "Tell your mother I said . . . " or "Give your father this letter." She knows I will turn this over late nights while I lay in bed. I will rewrite the ending, change the characters and make this a happy fairytale where the mother eventually wakes up from her slumber to find the father ready to carry her off to pick up the kids from school. I will be the heroine of the tale, saving my family from catastrophe, fixing what was deemed unsalvageable. I lock myself away late nights and write.

Through classes, lectures, discussion and homework I've learned to pick apart my soul and put it back together again in front of my teachers, classmates, and the world. I've had to learn to claim all of my stories, even the ones that were hidden from me on purpose. I live within a family of secrets. We deny our hurt in the hopes of not passing it on through amniotic fluid or wistful sideways glances. We rewrite our lives to fit our dreams and pass it down through the years as truth. Through filmmaking I try to uncover those secrets. It is painful and excruciating and absolutely necessary. I spent this summer trying to connect the stories of my family into the story that is me. Where do I fit in the line of their lives? I am both my mother and my father in all sorts of contradictory ways. I am the spirit of my grandmother and the reality of my grandfather. I am part slave, part maroon, partly displaced. I cannot tell all the stories of our collective lives no matter how long I live. Yet here I am. Trying to create a senior film. Trying to figure out the woman that I am. Trying to discover my own feelings about monogamy, marriage, my mother, father, grandfather, mise en cine, visual strategy, sound construction, Writing 105, and Problems in Film and Video 520. I have to figure it out by mid October or my film teacher will curse me out in his Czechoslovakian accent, which in the end doesn't matter because I don't know what he's saying anyway. My senior film may possibly be the only chance I have to tell my story the way I want to without the filters of studios and producers. This is my chance to scream my identity for all the world to hear (possibly landing a sweet scholarship for graduate film school in the process), like it or not. This is the creation of an heirloom for my children to view their mother as she was at twenty. Young, cute, confident, scared, brave, sensitive, and unsure. This is what I've wanted to do all my life. This is magnificent.


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