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“This is More Than a Pause, a Waiting-Out Time”: David Barker on Humanity’s Challenges

In April, as we began to put together the Summer, 2020 issue of Filmmaker, we asked directors, cinematographers, editors and other film workers to send us their thoughts on the quarantine and their own creative lives. The responses printed here were collected from April through mid-June — personal statements that speak variously to individual filmmaking practices, films halted mid-production, politics, art and life. Read all the responses here. — Editor

I’m in Santiago, Chile, where I came to be with family when the film I was working on went on hiatus.

These questions to people in the arts seem to focus mostly on income and working, and I can answer those by saying “none” and “trying.” I’m distracted: not just by our two small kids who are home without school or day care, not just by uneasiness over the suffering that the virus and many governments’ response to it is causing, but also by the sense that this is more than just a pause, a waiting-out time. It’s potentially a messianic event.

It had seemed that many of our pressing problems—climate change among them—were so large they could not be solved by humanity as it has constituted and known itself. (This is the second time in my lifetime that humanity has seemed to have the possibility to end its experiment here on earth—I grew up under the threat of nuclear holocaust.) And all of a sudden, we are on time-out. If I could have dreamt for anything for humanity, it might have been for exactly this, a time-out—though without the suffering and corruption. A messianic event is an event that ends history as we know it and creates a new opening, a possibility to imagine, a structural realignment. I see tiny glimmers of it in the dramatically increased awareness of how interconnected we all are and in numerous collaborations across borders and continents that simply would not have happened before, and which will remain when things get busy again.

For the past 10 years, I’ve been editing or writing films with some fantastic directors, and it’s clear to me the difference it makes when I am supporting another artist in their vision, particularly when it goes on to make a real impact in the world, as several recent projects have. I will be continuing in this work. But this moment gives wind to a feeling I’ve had for the last year, that there is something else I have to offer, which could make a difference and that would mean also returning to create works that I generate myself. If I look at the various projects that I have been mulling over, I realize they have something in common. Behind all of them is idea that the structures under which we have lived together—physical, legal, psychological—are neither necessary nor arbitrary, and that we can imagine and create new ones. If I could create some works that help the coming generations to know in their bones that this is possible… I’d feel okay about that.

David Barker is an editor and screenwriter. 

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