Laurie Blakely of Healing Hands Film: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A…

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Laurie Blakely of Healing Hands Film: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker

Be reverent toward your subject and subjects: It is a gift to be allowed to delve into people’s stories. Remember to respond with respect and gratitude. I was floored by how open and introspective the healers were in their interviews. These people are not the typical talking head “experts” you see in a lot of documentaries. These are “regular” people, and one of them absolutely hates being filmed, but they had enough trust in me and in the mission of the film that they agreed to participate. I will always be enormously grateful for their sincerity and kindness.

As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Laurie Blakely.

Laurie Blakely is a sculptor, painter, and award-winning filmmaker based in rural Southern Illinois. She is fascinated with using art as a restorative tool. Her film, Healing Hands, was born of Laurie’s experiences with grief. In the film, she collaborates with four non-traditional healers to explore the art of transforming sorrow into peace.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

Thanks so much for talking with me.

Growing up, I always loved nature. I grew up next to the Shawnee National Forest- and I live in it now- in a hundred-year-old cottage in the woods. While my life now revolves around art and film, I’m not one of those people who always considered themselves “artistic”. When I was young, I just loved to make things- paper-mache puppets, coiled ceramic bowls and any craft kit I could get my hands on. In fact, it wasn’t until my 30s that I resolved to learn how to paint and draw.

Now, I have been a practicing artist for over 25 years, and my work ranges from painting to photography, lighting, sculpture, garden art, collage and now film. But, essentially, I’m still the same kid that likes to create and take long walks in the forest and fields. In the last few years, I have spent almost all my time exploring the craft of filmmaking. However, my focus is not film in general, but in film as an experiential and powerful tool for good.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

After I lost several people close to me in a very short time, my sculptural and painting work became focused on the theme of loss. And while it was a cathartic and meditative experience to work through my grief in my art, I knew something was missing.

One night, the idea for the Healing Hands project descended whole. I just knew I wanted to collaborate with healers to create an immersive restorative experience combining film, art, and music.

There was one problem- I knew nothing about film (except my experience as a still photographer). I was completely naïve about the very steep learning curve that I would have to climb to craft and edit a film. And that it would take years to even begin to learn the ropes.

I came to realize that I love film and the way it can engage us and widen our world. And I think film has unique capabilities to be a healing influence in our lives.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

I had an interesting realization about my creative process recently.

After the film was basically finished, I was unclear about my next step. So, I decided I needed a “retreat”, so I booked an Airbnb about an hour away.

I always thought it was silly when people planned “getaways” so close to home. Why should I spend money on an apartment when I could easily drive home and sleep in my own bed and work in my own spacious studio? But, I ignored the voice of frugality and practicality, and I went.

Once there, I just read, took notes, journaled, meditated, and stared at the boats on the distant river. It was wonderful! I read psychology papers researching what happens in our brain when we look at art and read essays about creativity and beauty. Odd I know- but that’s what I was fascinated with at the time- and I went with it.

When I came home five days later, I had the seed of a workshop that I could pair with the film. This directionless working “vacation” was so fruitful because I allowed myself to just learn what I wanted to learn.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

The most fascinating people I encountered were the healers that participated in the project. I sought out local non-traditional healers and was astounded at the extent of their training and skill. For instance, in our rural township- I found out that the acupuncturist who lives right down the road was trained by the personal physician to the Dalai Lama!

Famous connections aside, I believe a great deal of untapped wisdom can be found in many communities- large or small. And I definitely found that to be true here. These women were not used to talking about their personal experiences- especially on film- but after decades of caring for others in pain every day, they had profound insights to share.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mother, who died during the making of the film, has been an enormous influence. She was a history professor- a brilliant scholar and teacher who embodied the spirit of a passionate learner. I would never have even contemplated that I could learn a new field like filmmaking without her example, especially to embark on this new “career” in my 50’s.

She had a tenacious focus that I have tried to emulate. There were times in the last few years when I almost felt like giving up. Being isolated in a rural area, I had to learn the filmmaking craft from analyzing other documentaries, reading books on documentary structure, struggling through video editing tutorials and youtube videos. It was often frustrating and confusing, but I felt her presence pushing me to persevere.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have loved this quote since I was in high school and used to gift it to friends as if it was a precious gem.

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” — Henry David Thoreau.

This quote gave me permission to dream when I was young- to imagine the creative life I might have. And it encouraged me to make it happen- even if it meant spending all my vacation days from work in the darkroom in my 20s- or daring to learn to paint, sculpt and draw next to undergraduates in my 30s. This quote is a road map. First, imagine and then methodically learn the skills to transport you to your imagined destination.

I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Before I became an artist, I worked with refugees and immigrants. Almost every single person I met was generous, interesting, and incredibly respectful. It is painful for me to witness the anti-immigrant sentiment that has permeated contemporary culture.

I think we forget that, for the most part, we are a nation of immigrants (including those who were forcibly brought here and enslaved). We also forget those that inhabited this land before Europeans colonized it. This country’s richness lies in its diversity. It is also important to remember that our country’s history includes discrimination and racialized violence. It is all part of who we are- it is all true.

The entertainment industry could be an essential forum to not only tell the stories of under-represented groups, but also to begin important discussions about who we are as a nation and who we value and respect.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I developed a workshop to deepen the experience of the film and I am excited about sharing it with groups large or small- online or in-person.

The tagline of my film is “the art of healing and the healing power of art”- and that is also the focus of the workshop. It combines creativity, art, and self-reflection to bring the healers’ insights from the film into our daily lives. I introduce personalized and imaginative tools to decrease stress and enhance well-being.

Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?

I was recently asked to screen the film to a group of incarcerated individuals by the Chaplain of their Grief support group. The way they “paid” for the film was to describe their reactions. I was very touched by their responses about the importance of self-love and how they were inspired to find peace amidst their sorrow.

The project began as a way to move through my own pain. To hear that it comforted others who are enduring loss was very gratifying.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Be vulnerable: No story rings true unless it is honest. I initially resisted this in my film, but the more vulnerable I became, the better it was. I was really uncomfortable filming myself, but I knew I had to talk about my grief and healing process for the film to feel authentic. It was difficult to turn inward and articulate my feelings and concerns, but I think people just sense something is “off” when a narrative doesn’t have that unvarnished, truthful quality.
  2. Be an alchemist: Film is an enchanting concoction of image, sound, movement, and pause. The entire mood or meaning can be transformed by the slightest change of an element. Enjoy the magic. I had no idea that I would love editing so much. The smallest alteration in the color of a clip or moving the cut one frame backward or forward can change the entire feeling. I wish someone had told me to just play around, be fearless, and experiment. Editing is like painting a canvas that only has a rough sketch on it. There is so much artistry to it.
  3. Be patient: It can take a long time to craft a multi-dimensional story. And expect a lot of bumps along the road. I experienced a lot of setbacks, including a multi-system computer/hard drive failure in which it appeared that the whole film was essentially lost. Luckily, I was able to resurrect it, but I learned some hard lessons about patience and perseverance in the process.
  4. Be tenacious: There’s a difference between what’s “good enough” and what’s “right”. Work on something until it feels right in your gut. Well into the editing of my film, I had to admit to myself that one section was just dull. I needed additional footage to bring it to life, but I felt that I had already asked so much of the healers. I didn’t want to intrude on their privacy again. After much resistance, I gritted my teeth and cautiously asked if I could film them doing their daily meditative practices- walking in the woods and practicing qi-gong. Years had passed since the initial footage was shot, and one of the healers had gone from having long blonde hair to having long silver hair, but the additional clips added such an important personal dimension. I’m so glad I didn’t settle for “good enough.”
  5. Be reverent toward your subject and subjects: It is a gift to be allowed to delve into people’s stories. Remember to respond with respect and gratitude. I was floored by how open and introspective the healers were in their interviews. These people are not the typical talking head “experts” you see in a lot of documentaries. These are “regular” people, and one of them absolutely hates being filmed, but they had enough trust in me and in the mission of the film that they agreed to participate. I will always be enormously grateful for their sincerity and kindness.

When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?

I am very lucky to be the Director, Producer, Cinematographer, and Editor of my film. This would not have been possible even a decade ago, but because of recent technological advances, it is now feasible to create a professional quality film with a fairly small budget.

I also realized early on that since I had a very specific vision, it would be best to craft the film mostly by myself. I wanted to make something I had never seen- a blend of art, music, nature, the healer’s insights and practices, and my own self-reflections.

However, I wanted the film to be more than a chronicle of my journey and the healers’ ideas. I wanted to create a contemplative, restorative experience that feels personally relevant for the viewer. My overarching goal is for the film to empower others to reflect on their own path toward a more fulfilling life.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It sounds trite- but I would create a movement around kindness. At my son’s school- the motto was “Be Kind”. There, it was more than just a motto on a poster. “Acts of Kindness” were recognized in front of the whole school each week, and individual teachers encouraged kindness daily.

If I could wave a wand to change the world- kindness would be extended to every “natural” thing on this planet- not just to other people, but to animals, plants, birds, trees- even water and air. It might sound airy-fairy to some- but to develop this kind of deep respect is a powerful spiritual tool.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I would love to talk to Theaster Gates- an amazing artist based in Chicago. He is a true visionary who combines sculpture, architecture, story, music, and film to create transformative experiences.

For example, he created an installation within the remains of a church in England that had been bombed in WWII. He worked with an architecture firm to use discarded wood and windows to construct a kind of fairytale mini-church inside the original church. Then, he had musicians play there 24 hours a day for 24 days. Anyone was invited to come and contemplate in the space day or night.

In addition to his temporary architectural work and sculptural work, he has also converted abandoned buildings on the south side of Chicago into community centers and neighborhood hubs. His ability to reimagine materials and spaces to create experiences is magical. I would love to discuss what he has learned about immersive environments and how the spaces/art we interact with can change how we think and feel.

How can our readers further follow you online?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Laurie Blakely of Healing Hands Film: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.