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.