Sept. 22, 2006
Soaring through pain
Artists triumph over childhoods in their work.
KATHARINE HAMER EDITOR
The film opens in silence, with a quote from psychoanalyst Anthony
Storr over the green shadows of a Pacific forest: "The creative
spirit is not indestructible, but a courageous few discover that
when in hell, they are granted a glimpse of heaven."
The film, Glimpses of Heaven, is the first directorial effort
from Vancouverite Michael Oved Dayan. It documents the lives of
three remarkable men, each of whom became a successful artist after
surviving a deeply traumatic childhood.
Dayan said he had always wanted to make a movie, and was struck
by Storr's book, Solitude, which he read while completing
his PhD dissertation on the themes of privacy and identity. A communications
professor, Dayan had ample access to artists of note through his
mother, painter Linda Frimer. The subjects of Glimpses of Heaven,
composer Peter Gary, potter Wayne Ngan and painter George Littlechild,
were all friends of Frimer's.
"I knew they were people with incredible stories," Dayan
told the Independent, "and I knew they were people with
whom I could speak openly. They were very colorful as well."
With calm detachment, each of the men relays an astonishing tale
of childhood suffering. Gary is a Holocaust survivor; Littlechild,
the survivor of abuse at the hands of a foster parent; Ngan, sent
from China to live with his grandparents in Richmond at the age
of 13, was alternately ignored or berated.
Dayan alternates between the men's stories and dreamy, haunting
nature settings: a slow drive down a tree-lined island road, the
sun streaming through a forest, sea birds seen from the deck of
a ferry. His idea, he said, was to impart to the viewer the sense
of comfort his subjects derive from nature and their undeniable
sense of optimism.
"I will not deprive myself from another smile, from another
extended hand, from another, 'Hello, nice to meet you,' " says
Gary, whose mother was shot to death while protecting him from SS
officers, and who emerged, alive, from a concentration camp. He
adds that his post-modernist compositions, which act as the soundtrack
to this documentary, are the only way he is really able to communicate.
"I believe you have to go to the depths to understand what
it truly means to be human," says Littlechild.
"It's about taming the volcano," adds Ngan, one of Canada's
most prominent ceramicists.
There is a universality to the film's message; a sense that hope
and healing are possible in the face of seemingly immutable sadness.
"We've all suffered," Dayan observed. "These people
are all from different cultures, but they're all saying the same
things. It's about trusting your voice; trusting the world. It's
rare that you see men who are so gentle and sensitive."
Glimpses of Heaven is being screened next week at the Calgary
International Film Festival, alongside movies that cost $25,000
to make, Dayan noted. (His own feature, shot on mini-DV, totalled
a mere $4,000, not including his own time.) Dayan, who also wrote
and produced the movie, hopes to show it in Vancouver some time
in the coming months.
For more information, visit www.glimpsesofheaven.ca.