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Ozymandias is wearing me out

Adrian Patenaude

One thing that bothers me in movies is how characters always seem to reference the same few works of Western literature, making them appear mysterious and cultured. I don't mean to dismiss the writings of an entire culture... but honestly, I'm kinda bored. 

For example: When David, Michael Fassbender's character in Alien: Covenant, quoted Ozymandias, I couldn't shake the feeling that it was overused.

I freely admit I'm guilty of this myself. (Notice my Icarus reference at the end of We All Know Different Suns.) I remember being taught to throw in subtle references to Greek/Roman mythology or Biblical analogies to give my writing a more sophisticated feel. My teacher explained it as a way to reward people who understand the reference, allowing them to feel included in an inside joke shared between the author and reader. 

The problem with inside jokes is that they are, by nature, exclusive of other groups. So if Western writings are the inside joke, then the implications are disturbing for our increasingly multicultural world.

I guess that's another way David's character is so sinister in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. He is classically trained (I suppose "programmed" is more accurate) and by default a telling reflection of his human creator's ideal. 

At their most innocent, these repeat references feel like an easy way out – lazy writing. With centuries of world history and a limitless wealth of internet resources, we have all the tools we need to discover obscure cultural ideas that could shed new light on the themes we're exploring.

A big reason the acclaimed anime film Your Name is my favorite movie of the year so far is because the metaphors are completely fresh to me as a non-Japanese person. And yet they are presented in a way that anyone can latch onto the nuanced emotional truth of the story.

The bottom line? I'm sick of Western ideas automatically being equated with wisdom, refinement, and education. No offense to the great writers of the West (believe me, I can appreciate). But let's broaden our horizons, k?

An evening with my favorite director

Adrian Patenaude

I spent two hours with my favorite director on Friday night. Lake Austin Spa Resort hosted Jeff Nichols as part of their new speaker series. It was a group of maybe 10 people and me, hanging on his every word and forgetting to snap any photos of the gorgeous lakeside location.

A few lessons from the filmmaker:

Don't wait for permission. If you're gonna make movies, you're gonna make movies. You make a movie, and then you're a director. (At 24, he admits he was pretty intense.)

For him, it wasn't a matter of IF he would make a movie but WHEN and with whose money.

He was once offered a big job starting the day after his wedding. "Don't move the wedding" became their mantra. The *movie* fell through.

A movie isn't a real thing until you're watching it in the theater.

He always negotiates for final cut because the worst thing that can happen is something that's not your movie goes out into the world with your name on it.

He was honest about wanting to be rich, the *right* kind of famous, and for a lot of people to see his movies.

Finally: Have something to say. Something worth bothering people about for two hours.

Michael Shannon in Take Shelter

Michael Shannon in Take Shelter

No Excuse for Whitewashing

Adrian Patenaude

We’ve come to expect the worst from the Facebook comments section, but the other day I had the surprising opportunity to engage in a frank conversation about whitewashing with someone I respect IRL but often disagree with online. I thought this rare occurrence warranted archiving as proof it’s possible to firmly defend your beliefs without resorting to mutual name-calling.

I should also note that I was only willing to participate in what could have been a painful conversation because my perspective today can largely be attributed to the patient pushback of my friends — their willingness to engage with me and share their stories. How else can we learn to live at peace with one another?

Ian Alexander as Buck in The OA (Netflix)

Ian Alexander as Buck in The OA (Netflix)

Original Post

Dear Hollywood, you have no excuse for whitewashing. Whitewashing is laziness at best and at worst, well, racism. The talent is out there. Someone just needs to put their foot down. Exhibit A is how my favorite filmmakers, Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, said NO and filled an “impossible-to-cast” role:

We’d always written the character as a 14-year-old transgender FTM Asian-American, and when we gave our casting director Avy Kaufman that description, she said, ‘We might not be able to find this person, so what are you flexible on?’ We told her we weren’t flexible, so she finally took to the internet and posted some casting notices on various trans chat rooms and groups, and audition tapes came flooding in.
Ian was among them, he had shot his with his iPhone in his bathroom and uploaded it all without his parents knowing. Out of nowhere, his parents get a phone call that Netflix wants to cast their son! They’re like, ‘What?’
His tape was brilliant.
He told us, ‘I’m having a really hard time in school, because I wanted to act but it’s not like the plays that are done in high school have roles that describe a person like me. You can’t imagine what it was like to go online and see a posting for a Netflix show that describes me.’

Link to article: “The OA” Isn’t Just Netflix’s New Surprise Bingewatch — It Presents Us With A Fascinating Trans Character

Comment Thread One

Ryan Martin (RM): I hate to seem combative, but I don’t think we are in a position to broadly condemn anyone for laziness or racism based on “white washing.” That is to take an effect and reason back to a cause, but this requires far more information that we are privy to. A lot of times a roll is “whitewashed,” simply because the white actor has more name recognition, and is therefore more profitable, than the equally qualified counterpart. Other times, it’s just because the best actor to audition happens to be white. No one considered it lazy or racist when Nick Furry (white character) was cast by Samuel L. Jackson because Jackson killed the roll. All I’m saying is that unless we have specific information about the directors internal motivations and the quality of the talent pool available to said director, we aught to refrain from condemning anyone of one of the most sickening prejudices.

Adrian Patenaude (AP): I appreciate your dialogue! I should have noted this, but my post is an indirect response to the recent casting of a white male in the role of a Hawaiian WWII hero. There is more of an argument when it comes to comic book movies, but with this being a true historic figure, it makes zero sense to take away the opportunity for a member of that culture to portray such a significant role.

The excuse that there are no Hawaiian actors is not a sufficient one to me when I’m sure there is plenty of undiscovered talent out there (see: Auli’i Cravalho in Moana and the article above). Beyond that, it just isn’t possible for a white male actor to truly capture the nuances of a culture he is not a member of (no matter his level of talent).

I used to give more grace for whitewashing. It is an understandable challenge — but it is not excusable. We keep shifting the blame from the actors to the directors to the casting directors to the producers to the broken system overall… and no one ends up stopping the loop. What would have happened if Scarlett Johansson had held the studios accountable by publicly saying no to Ghost in the Shell?

I can’t judge the motivations of individual people involved — even the Doctor Strange whitewashing of the Ancient One came out of an intentional (but failed) effort by the director to promote diversity. It’s a struggle to make this a priority. But my reason for posting this article comes down to proving that it CAN be done. Hollywood is afraid of taking risks and there’s a PERCEIVED lack of diversity in the talent pool. The system is broken to the point of excluding new talent in general and minorities especially.

Someone has to step up to break the cycle. Until that happens, everyone is a contributor.

RM: I appreciate your thoughts. Can I ask you a question: Why was it a failed attempt to promote diversity in the way they casted the Ancient One?

AP: In some ways it was a success: 1) It reworked a character that was originally stereotypical 2) It gender-bended an originally male character to add gender diversity. However, the central failure was the erasure of an Asian character. The article I linked to explains how they were trying to avoid the “Dragon Lady” stereotype, so they opted to switch to a white female. A better response would have been to hire an Asian writer (preferably female) to add nuance and/or cast an Asian female who could correctly flesh out the character.

RM: As always, thank you for your openness and clarity. You’re a clear thinker as well as writer. While I understand and agree with the general premise that we should do our best to cast roles in ways that represent the source material, I fear two major problems. 1. It seems that we are holding people to unexpressed and unattainable expectations. Avoiding two majorly offensive stereotypes and “gender bending” a role seems as though it should be a huge score for diversity. The fact that it isn’t seen as such, I think, speaks to the unattainability of our expectations. 2. There seems to be a pretty clear double standard: when we cast “Hamilton,” which is about the white founding fathers, exclusively with actors AND actresses of color, we are praised. But when we cast a fictitious asian man as a white female, we are panned as lazy or racist. There clearly seems to be a bias against men and whites. I point these out not out of offense, but simply say that there seems to be an intellectual inconsistency.

AP: Great points here, and I think there is a double standard of sorts. However, I believe it comes out of an attempt to compensate for a society that is set up for the benefit of white males. The society as a whole works in their favor, so efforts are doubled in order to cast diverse people as a way of claiming that they have value and celebrating them in a culture where they rarely have a voice. Intellectually, it is unfair, but in the big picture, life in the US is extremely unfair for POC. That’s what this conversation is really about — creating visibility for people who are treated as invisible in their own country.

RM: I really appreciate your candor. While I completely agree that history is replete with systematic benefits for white males, I think many of those benefits have been largely mitigated. Further and far more fundamentally, I feel that swinging the pendulum from one side to the other is not only inconsistent, but pragmatically harmful. Blaming whites for the sins of their great grand parents, insisting that they’re success is largely due to their unintended yet ill-gotten privilege, and then propagating a system where they are actively discriminated against solely to combat other systems of oppression that were denounced and criminalized 50 years ago by their grandparents is a great way to disenfranchise an entire generation.

AP: I definitely agree that swinging the pendulum is a dangerous thing. That does not lead to justice or reconciliation. However, I strongly disagree that systems of oppression have disappeared. There is still so much work to be done. The more I talk to minorities, the more I realize that the fight is far from over. They are still made to feel like second class citizens on many levels — from microaggressions to existing systems of oppression. I have not read it myself, but I hear The New Jim Crow is a great book on the matter. There’s also the documentary 13th on Netflix that I need to see as well. I’m sure Ashley has other resources she can point you to.

RM: I am would love to fight systems of injustice, but by definition, Microagressions are not systems, and therefore, they may be frustrating, but they aren’t systemic. Since we’ve made systematic racism illegal, what systems are still in place that have slipped through the cracks that we need to combat?

AP: Reading the book I mentioned and that documentary will be a great place to start because they address those existing systems. (I would go more into both but like I said, I haven’t read/watched them yet.) The Black Lives Matter movement is another example that is trying to call out an injustice that is alive and active today.

I mention microaggressions simply because they are the *symptoms* of a broken attitude toward certain members of our society. It makes them feel like second class citizens, that their fears are dismissed.

RM: I guess what I’m asking for is a particular system, such as a law, that unfairly targets minorities or POC.

AP: I wish I could give you specifics, but the best I can do at this moment is point you to those resources. It’s an area of study I need to tackle on my own so I can offer specifics next time a conversation like this comes up. I encourage you to investigate! I’ll be doing the same so I can be more prepared in the future.

AP (a few minutes later): Ryan, I used to dismiss the idea that oppression still exists. So I feel like I know where you’re coming from. But conversations and research have started to change my perspective. As believers, it’s on us to investigate whether injustice truly exists so we can be allies. It’s easy to dismiss when that’s not our reality as white, privileged people. But we have to do the work of listening rather than expecting the people it’s effecting to constantly “defend” their experience. I’m only just starting to pay attention and take their fears seriously. It’s really hard and I make many mistakes. I have a long way to go. Really appreciate the way you listen, friend! I hope this conversation was enlightening.

RM: Thank you for that encouragement Adrian. I appreciate your Christlike love for your fellow man. I couldn’t agree more that is our Christian duty to stand up for the oppressed. Be blessed.

Comment Thread Two

Ashley Stevens (AS): I agree with Adrian Patenaude. When it comes to fictional characters I’m willing to give ground but when it comes to portraying a real person whitewashing is a problem and pretty much any other form of casting a person of a different race or ethnicity then the person they are portraying. Also, the story being told is about a person, most people, would not likely be familiar with outside of Hawaii. So that’s a hurtle in and of itself. And the guy they cast isn’t super well known either so why not cast a unknown or lesser known Hawaiian or Polynesian actor (who are out there, btw).

Ryan Martin (RM): I appreciate your point of view, and I think I agree with you. Can I ask your opinion of Hamilton: Since you feel stricter about casting of real people than you do fictional characters, how do you feel about the cast of Hamilton being exclusively for non-whites? Its not offensive to me personally, but I’m interested in how we can intellectually integrate this sort of casting choice into a larger systematic approach to the topic of race and representation (acting).

AS: The history purist in me feels like Hamilton should be cast appropriately. However, I understand the statement Miranda was making by casting people of color. I was actually having a convo with [another friend] about this so she can shed better light on this.

That’s when the concept of blind casting can come into play. Hire the best actor for the role regardless of race, ethnicity or gender. I like the idea when it comes to most roles but when there is that lens of history that’s when it becomes problematic. For example if you cast a black man in a period piece, say the early 1900s, and the movie acknowledges he is black, the movie can’t NOT make a statement about the experience of being a black man in the early-20th century and what that entailed.

RM: Thank you so much for sharing you’re thoughts. I tend to lean towards blind everything. I don’t mean to ignore culture and history, but simply to say, in the arena of jobs (acting included), hire people based on their qualification. Now, if one of the qualifications is to be black or white for a certain character, I’m fine with that. That to say, If a character can be convincingly played by member of another race (say persian for an Israeli), and they happen to be the better actor, give it to them.

AS: Same. I’ve enjoyed the conversation. In summary, my two bones of contention is Hollywood’s propensity to use the statement “we couldn’t find x person to play this part” which I call b.s. on. There is plenty of undiscovered talent and people striving to be actors but are shut out by casting calls, agents, and then the actors who really shouldn’t play the part taking them because its more about getting paid then asking “am I the appropriate person to do this role.” Secondly, there’s so much historical misinformation & poor history education that I can be a bit of a purist about it. I don’t want Hollywood contributing to it because that’s how a LOT of people learn about historical events and people.

Ok, I’m officially done now. Get me started on movies and history and I can talk incessantly about it. :)

Volunteering at the Austin Asian American Film Festival

Adrian Patenaude

I'm excited to announce that I'm volunteering as the new marketing director of the 2017 Austin Asian American Film Festival! I can't imagine a role more suited to my blend of skills and passions. Supporting new voices - especially diverse ones - is a core value I want to live by as a filmmaker (and human being). The Hollywood studio system notoriously shuts these artists out, so small festivals like this one are critical for giving them the audience they deserve. Nothing transports us outside our perspective like a great film. Moonlight is perhaps the best recent example of that, dropping me into a hidden world I never knew existed. I'm thrilled to be involved in a project that works to cultivate the sharing and expression of different cultures, both in the US and abroad. 

My Screenwriting Process on Medium

Adrian Patenaude

I'm going to start using Medium's new Series feature to share the process of writing my screenplay! Unfortunately, it looks like you'll have to download the app to view it. BUT it'll be an honest log of the slow, unsteady progress I've made. I'll be sharing writing exercises I've tried, personal emotional challenges I've had to overcome, and inspiration from other sources that feed into my story.  I'm excited to share my process with you - or at least to remind myself of how far I've come and to encourage myself to keep plugging away one day at a time :)

SENT: Series on Medium

Screenwriting as devotional practice

Adrian Patenaude

I'm currently working on an as yet unnamed science fiction feature. I had the story idea for it back when I was in college, and since then I've approached it and abandoned it more times than I can count. I just can't seem to get it out of my head. Which is a good sign, I guess.

Sometimes I feel guilty about taking so long to write (can I just finish a draft, already??) but today I looked back on the past three years of living with this story and had a realization:

The core of my story is virtually unchanged, but it has grown in subtlety and lost its certainty in many ways. Much the same could be said about my faith. And that's why I'm starting to see screenwriting as a devotional practice. 

Writing this story has been an intensely personal journey that has challenged and refined me, forcing me to grapple with big questions and come face to face with the ramifications of what I believe. One minute I'm crying out to the Spirit for inspiration and the next I'm doing my best to puzzle it out on my own. Even in the weeks or months when I'm not working on it, I sense tectonic shifts in my paradigm forming new crags and valleys in the landscape of a film I'll one day finish.

When I started, I thought I was telling myself a story to better understand my faith, or even to defend it to the doubting world around me. Now all I can see is God's practiced hand in the process, revealing himself to me through a medium I have grown to love. 

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How Jeff Nichols became my favorite director (and 'Loving' review)

Adrian Patenaude

Earlier this year, I attended a panel with Jeff Nichols, knowing little about him other than the fact he'd directed a McConaughey movie called Mud awhile back. He was still in production for Loving at the time, but he said this about the project: “it’s the most beautiful love story I've ever heard. I can't wait for you to see it.”

I went home, watched his movies, cried a lot, and before long I had proclaimed him my favorite director. His movies access something wordless within me, capturing a sense of wonder and tragedy, a doubt-filled longing for love and belief. Jeff Nichols has the rare gift of crafting characters that speak volumes without saying a word. They aren't eloquent people, but everything we need to know about the difficult questions they're asking can be read clearly on their unremarkable faces.

You can imagine my excitement when I found out that Loving was going to be the opening night film at Austin Film Festival. But I was slightly worried he would miss the mark with his most Oscar-y movie yet. Thank God he stayed true to his flawless storytelling instinct.

Loving manages to address equality without being a "message movie.” Rather than making it about the civil rights movement, he chose to hone in on the quiet love story of a real-life couple, Richard & Mildred Loving, whose lives were affected by the unjust laws of their state. In doing so, we see a more realistic portrayal of the personal pain that systematic racism inflicts on everyday people.

More than anything, I believe Jeff Nichols’ brilliance as a filmmaker can be attributed to his humility. That's what struck me about the clean-cut young man on the panel before I saw any of his movies. The power of Loving, like everything else he's made, lies in his willingness and ability to get out of the way so the story can speak for itself in silent eloquence.

Originally published on Letterboxd.

Community matters

Adrian Patenaude

Chasing a dream demands sacrifice. The unavoidable reality is that mastering a craft requires years of back-breaking work and intense focus. We're all familiar with the story of the lonely artist whose friends and family fall by the wayside as they pursue their passion. It's the price of the arts. Or so they say.

"My dear, find what you love and let it kill you." – Charles Bukowski

Little waves of guilt wash over me when I find myself spending time with my friends instead of writing. How much of this investment in relationships is wholesome, and how much is procrastination or distraction? Am I weak to retreat into the comfort of friendship? Am I one of those dreamers who will settle for a far too quiet life for fear of being lonely?

I'm not sure of my motivations. But recently a friend of mine shared a thought that struck me: Some people build a community for the sake of honing their art, while others engage in the arts for the sake of having a community.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the latter was true for me.

I learned to love movies in the first place because watching movies was our family's nightly tradition. I learned to love filmmaking because it was a project I could work on with my brother. We grew up making videos together as kids, and in college we made short films. Early this year, jumping on set with our friends felt like the most natural way in the world to spend the last moments of Christmas vacation and the first moments of 2016.

Those sweet moments during filming, where everyone is working hard and cracking jokes and believing in a story you wrote – that's what I'm really after. 

When I think about my dreams for a career in film, I remember seeing a photo on Twitter of the Avengers cast and crew having dinner together. I saved that photo to my phone because I so desperately wanted a seat at that table, just to share a meal with the talented people making the stories I loved.

I remember the 2015 Academy Awards and Wes Anderson's face filled with such sweet joy and pride as his crew won award after award because he had created for them an environment where they could thrive. Every one of them thanked him for that, and I knew that was the kind of director I wanted to be.

I dream of fame (of course I do), but I'm mostly attracted to the idea of sharing a story I needed to tell myself with a small tribe of people who needed to hear it, too. It's not wrong to want an audience; it's a beautiful form of connection.

I might be naïve, and I already know I'm idealistic. But I want to prove we can rise together. I want to believe that kindness takes us far. Maybe I don't want success enough. Maybe I'm afraid of the sacrifice required to get me there. But I'm more afraid of sacrificing the sacred pleasure of telling stories with my family, mentors, friends, and you.

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Adrian Patenaude

I've had three roommates in a year and I'm about to get a fourth. The turnover has been frustrating as I work so hard to build a home here in Austin. So after coming back to a shower curtain-less bathroom one too many times, I finally bought my own. Funny how a single purchase can help me feel more settled.

I'm slowly beautifying my tiny duplex - adding new yard sale furniture finds, filling up space on the walls, clearing off my bookshelf to make a poor man's standing desk, finding creative ways to let in more natural light. 

A friend of mine shared an article on minimalism, so it's inspired me to downsize, too. Goodwill donations are packed into the back of my car, freeing up one of my trunks to store the old, shedding Christmas tree previously taking up precious floor space in an eyesore cardboard box.

I went through my stash of cards and programs and newspaper clippings and save-the-dates, time and space granting me a new perspective on what's truly memorable. I glued ticket stubs and concert wristbands into an unused notebook, knowing full well I'll never get around to scrapbooking again.

I even organized my digital files, uploading and archiving and converting and backing up. Uncovering old ideas with some promise and tucking away middle school essays for a future chuckle. 

As I wait for a new surge of creative energy, I'm glad I took the time to clear my space and de-clutter my mind. My nest is ready for the next idea to hatch.

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Fan the flame

Adrian Patenaude

It's terrifying to watch my motivation seep away.

I've been so determined not to settle for mediocrity, but to my horror, I keep catching myself thinking it would be so much easier to surrender. Not everyone has to be great, you know. And I might even be happier.

I like to think I'm a driven person, but if I'm going to make it in the film industry, it has to be because of a higher calling. Selfish ambition can only get me so far, and that's not very far at all. I'm 23 and already burnt out. It's pathetic.

So this month I've been focused on resting and listening. I'm unsure what my next steps are after working at a PR job for almost two years. I'm no closer to the film industry, and now I'm barely even writing. I've been waiting desperately for the Lord to speak, asking him to give me some direction, some confirmation of my calling. Reading Acts has made me hungry for the intimacy Paul had with the Lord - listening, hearing and obeying in one fluid motion.

When I got quiet, God spoke up.

"Fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you." (2 Timothy 1:6)

I've heard it before, but this time it was for me. My writing is the gift he's given me. I have my higher calling. Now it's up to me to fan it into flame, to feed it, to give it space to grow. And the better I listen to my Source, the more powerful it will be when I write because I will be communicating his message.

Friends, my Father's voice has rekindled my courage.

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Chewbacca Wisdom

Adrian Patenaude

I finally watched a video a friend of mine sent me awhile back of the Chewbacca mask lady addressing a room full of young people with big dreams. It's exactly what I need to hear in this season because the Lord is walking me through the exact refinement process that she describes.

It doesn't matter how talented, how anointed, how gifted, how passionate or how willing you are if you're not fit to do the things God is calling you to do. And that is spiritually fit. The thing that will take you further and further in the kingdom of God is 3 things:
1) Diligence. Be diligent in the work of the Lord.
2) Patience. Have those moments where you stop and you wait on the Lord. Don't rush into ministry or a good opportunity because it looks shiny. Wait for the voice of God to direct you.
And the third thing - it's the biggest thing if I could get to my 16-year-old self. 
3) Have obedience. When he tells you "move," move. When he tells you "stop," stop. When he tells you "indulge in the delights of my table," indulge. But when he says "that's not yours, you can't have it" – step away. 
Do not try to make a name for yourself. His name will always out shadow yours.

Watch the full video here (her charge begins at 7:00).

I hope this challenged you as much as it did me.

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Some Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation

Adrian Patenaude

I've been thinking about this a lot lately and it just spilled out on Twitter, so I thought I'd share. Still fairly new to the nuances of cultural appropriation, but here's my personal take.

I want to be respectful when it comes to cultural appropriation, but I fear the angry attitude that's often attached to the discussion. Here's my concern: as a white girl, I could be called out for displaying Asian cultural aspects (✌🏼 in photos, for example). But what critics don't realize is that I grew up in Thailand, so it's not that I have an obsession - I'm actually expressing *my* culture.

I feel this tension most strongly among the Asian-American community.* I'm white, so I could never belong. I'm viewed with suspicion. If I think an Asian guy is hot, it's a fetish. If I like anime, I'm a weeaboo - despite the fact I grew up watching Doraemon in Thai dub on hotel TVs.

My fear is that by focusing on eliminating cultural appropriation, the "us versus them" mentality deepens, meanwhile excluding those who walk the line between cultures. Because I so greatly fear being misconstrued, I actually limit my cultural expression. Which is the opposite effect we want, right?

So please be sensitive. Cultural lines are blurring. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Don't make assumptions. Let's teach and share - gently, not angrily.


* In Thailand, my expression of Thai culture was more readily accepted as a friendly gesture rather than appropriation. My experience with Thai international students in Austin has been similar. And dressing in culturally appropriate clothing during my internship in India was met with immense gratitude (some young men we met made a point to thank the women in my group for respecting Indian values of modesty).

Finding my voice

Adrian Patenaude

Writers talk a lot about the idea of finding their "voice" - the unique theme or style by which their work is recognized. A voice develops over a lifetime, of course, but one clue is to pay attention to what stories impact you most deeply.

When I think about the movies that have changed me - Take Shelter, Sound of My Voice, Interstellar - I see a common thread. Each one takes me out of myself, bringing me in contact with something breathtaking that exists just beyond my comprehension but just within my grasp. They all, in one way or another, explore the story of a fool who has it right in the end. The emotion that persists long after viewing can only be described as holy fear. 

Many aspects of my faith are difficult for me to understand, or sound far too good to be true. But I can't seem to shake it. I find my confidence in quiet moments, a warm gut feeling, a near-audible voice speaking sweet words I wouldn't dare make up. Those films have stuck with me because they manage to capture that sense of mystery and awe. To quote A Beautiful Mind, they help me "believe that something extraordinary is possible." 

Faith can't be proven or explained. God doesn't fit into a neat theology. But he's alive and active and intimately involved. That's my experience, anyway. So more than anything, I want my voice to create a space for others to have their own personal encounter with the divine.

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People of The Well

Adrian Patenaude

My church here in Austin is doing a series on the covenant members of the church. Here's my profile (it ended up being a fun little writing exercise):

1. What's your favorite color and if you could give a human characteristic to it what would it be?

My favorite color is red. Red is BOLD - something I aspire to be.

2. Favorite animal and why? 

I have to choose?? I like everything except cockroaches, ticks, mosquitoes and slugs (somehow snails are fine)… I ran over a snake a couple weeks ago and still feel bad :( If I have to choose, I guess I would say cats because if a cat takes a liking to you, that means something special.

3. What is a gift you'd never want to receive as a birthday present?

A gift card to a clothes store, cuz then I’d have to go shopping. Ugh, no. Buy me movies.

4. What your favorite worship song?

I’m recovering from a period of having trouble connecting with worship music, but Draw Near by Bethel is one that always speaks to me. I’ve also been enjoying songs by All Sons & Daughters and Tow’rs lately.

5. Where did you spend your childhood? What’s the biggest takeaway you have from that time?

I grew up as a missionary kid in rural northern Thailand. I think the biggest thing I learned was that God doesn’t ask us to be successful in the world’s terms. He just asks us to be faithful. My parents are still in Thailand, and are often discouraged by the lack of response, but I will always admire their willingness to do the work God has called them to, with or without results.

6. What scripture gives you the most hope?

"All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously, people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." Hebrews 11:13-16

7. What would you want your tombstone to say?

“Home at last."

8. Anything you desire people to know about you? 

I have a calling to writing and filmmaking that I can’t seem to shake. I’m still figuring out what that looks like as I work an 8-5 office job in an unrelated field, but I always have some sort of story growing. 

Time is on your side

Adrian Patenaude

One of my greatest realizations since graduating college is that I am in complete control of how I spend my time. I refuse to say things like "I ran out of time" or "I wish I had time to..." because I have exactly the same amount of time as anyone else. Either I can choose to take charge of where I invest it, or I can passively let it disappear due to my laziness or inability to say no. But as a mentor of mine frequently tells me, whenever I say yes to something, I'm saying no to something else. Or as my parents say, "good is the enemy of best."

I talk a lot about being a filmmaker, but how much time do I actually spend writing and filming? At some point, I have to back up my words with actions. And if I want to get anywhere with my passions, I can't avoid the fact that I need to put in some serious hours to hone those skills. When I finally came to terms with that reality, it was freeing to see how much I could delete from my life. Saying no was empowering. I'm more relaxed and at peace now because I'm investing in my higher calling instead of wasting time on a million other things. 

You'll always have restraints on your time. Maybe you work an 8-5 office job (like me). Maybe you're a new parent, so your focus is on your kid (and rightfully so). But realize you have more flexibility than you might think. If you care about something, you make time for it. Period. It's fine if your priorities have shifted – just make sure you're spending your time purposefully on whatever you care about, not out of a false sense of being trapped.

I promise you, you're not.

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ACU Film Fest 2016

Adrian Patenaude

Waking up too early but greeted by an Abilene sunrise, I find myself again at ACU Film Fest. All the emotions of my younger self come rushing back. Still glowing from the small town glitz of the gala, nervously awaiting the judges' true assessment. Painfully aware of my shortcomings, but unable to shake the feeling I'm onto something great. 

Above all, I'm terrified of believing in the foolish grandeur of my dreams. Because filmmaking is just something fun I do with my brother, right? It takes me until senior year and the most powerful bout of post-Film Fest depression yet to realize I'm a storyteller in my own right. Sometimes it takes everything in me to have faith in marvelous things.

Two years later, I'm back in that little room for the student feedback session, but this time seated at the judges table. I feel nauseatingly unqualified sandwiched between my heroes, though I've always felt the love seeping between the lines of their fair critique.

The judges retire to a hosting professor's house after the gala, squeezing up narrow stairs to a low-ceilinged room where I screen a short film completed just two days before in subconscious obedience to the Film Fest rhythm. Suddenly I'm a student again, memorizing their every comment. 

I feel silly calling myself a screenwriter without a feature to prove it. I may never get that Oscar, but how many do? I'm on the hundredth mental revision of my acceptance speech, but lately I've been letting go of that all-demanding idea of success.

Filmmaking is something I'll do with or without a paycheck. If I spend any number of my days writing and indulging in the complex depth of my emotions, any precious few hours on set with beloved friends who believe in the soul-shifting power of stories, then I will have lived my life richly.

Movies have helped me believe in the impossible. That the fool of this world has it right in the end. That something breathtaking exists just beyond our comprehension but just within our grasp. Movies have consistently brought me to my knees in holy fear, healing me with holy tears. So if that's the closest I've ever felt to heaven, then that's exactly where I'll be found.