You’ve been an educator in public school systems for over twenty years. Why now make a documentary? What inspired you?
The culture of our educational systems prioritizes the similarities of our children instead of promoting their differences. We tend to emphasise the idea that there is one right way to do things, and everyone is measured constantly up against the same standard. In the socio-economically disadvantaged communities where I’ve worked there is no art, music and theater in public schools anymore. Students are rewarded for replicating the status quo and that is causing us to lose our innovators and creators. We kill off their creative spirit before it has time to flourish. It became important to me to let my students know that there can be more than one way to be right, more than one way to be “correct” about something. What is different about a child is what makes him or her interesting; this is what we need to encourage and support. “Striking Differences” is about just that—highlighting the need to accept and celebrate the very different takes on life that extraordinary people have and are making.
How does Striking Differences address this issue?
“What’s different about you?” Most people struggle with this question. What’s unique about an individual is often difficult for him or her to pin down when asked but the answer comes out in their stories, their history, their worldviews. I wanted to capture these stories so I spent two months traveling through fifteen states meeting people from all walks of life and asking them this very question. The responses I received were overwhelmingly positive and receptive. Many of these folks are featured in the film but I focus on five individuals leading very different lives, but all following their passions, making it all work without ever compromising their principles.
Do you find these people to have an unusually high tolerance for fear, rejection, or insecurity?
Just the opposite. They are incredibly vulnerable. People who really put themselves out there in a big way—whether through their art, their music or their lifestyles—are subject to a high risk of pain and rejection. But their desire for self-expression, for love and to heal themselves is so strong it pushes them through their fears.
A documentary seems like a huge undertaking. What would you say to people interested in taking on a creative project like that, but feel it is being their abilities?
Nothing is beyond their abilities. I didn’t know a thing about making documentaries before I started. But I studied the process. I sought out mentors. I learned what I could and then I just dove in, often not knowing what the next step would be but figuring it out as I went. If someone wants to make a documentary, they can. They just need the passion and the belief.
Why You? Why now?
The theme of the documentary—honoring and celebrating our differences—needs to be told and my background and my experiences gave me the tools to tell it. As a cancer survivor, I no longer can tolerate not doing what I am driven to do. We have very little time on this planet and we need to pursue what is passionate and authentic to our individual selves.
You can learn more about, and support, “Striking Differences: A documentary about differences because similarities are so redundant” at www.strikingdifferences.com.
You can learn about the main subjects of the film via the links below:
-Beth Schindler (Austin, TX) founder of “Queer Bomb” http://www.queerbomb.org
-Sara Gardner aka Smoove G (Bloomington, IN) founder “The Back Door” http://backdoorbloomington.com/
-Kofy Brown (Washington, D.C.) founder of “Simba Music” http://kofybrown.com/
-Danyol aka Tamale Ringwald (Orange County, CA) founder of “Squrrl” http://danyol.com/
-Tony Malson (Spokane, WA) lead singer in “The Devil in California” http://thedevilincalifornia.com/
My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Processis out now. You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/Abundant-Bohemian-Joseph-Downing/dp/1633370135/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1419609806&sr=1-1&keywords=the+abundant+bohemian
[A1]Tony is the lead singer, but not the founder.