Youth is Not Skin Deep

Its been six months since I’ve written anything on this blog about our film, A Force in Nature: Jóhann Eyfells. It was also six months ago when I thought I would lose my house, and be forced to move due to financial challenges and joblessness. I think the last time I was ever faced with the possibility of being without a home was exactly 30 years ago, during the Writers’ Strike in Hollywood, when my total gross yearly income had barely reached $9,000. 2017 was both a very challenging year for me financially as well as rewarding creatively. In fact, if it wasn’t for my special friendship to this exceptional man, Jóhann Eyfells and experiencing the extraordinary life force he has within, I might not be here today writing about it. Of course, I won’t ignore the generosity and support I also received from own family and friends

This confession is not so much out of a self-abasement then it is out of an earnest look at my own humanity, my own frailty and fear of loneliness in the face of aging in this country.

Growing old in the United States is synonymous of becoming more and more invisible, and becoming expendable and nonessential, unlike most other cultures. I’ve always known this about our own American culture, but never felt the affects of it until I began losing my hair and feeling the weight of my awkward, out of shape, aging body on this earth. Its as if at a flick of a switch the world no longer saw me as relevant. On the outside, through social media like Facebook and Instagram, people could perceive me as being happy in life and somewhat successful, being a father of two beautiful children, a new business owner, a homeowner (mortgage owner), a filmmaker having just completed a film, and receiving small accolades for it. However, on the inside I was quickly losing my hold on everyday life, watching myself physically deteriorate, and my sense of self worth was at an all time low. At 56, I was feeling the grip of loneliness and isolation (self-imposed and otherwise) tightening around me, and most importantly I had come to realize a hard truth about myself. I was dying.

I became acquainted with Jóhann Eyfells exactly 13 years ago to the day, 10 years of which I spent documenting and filming his intimate and creative life. I don’t claim to know everything about him, but what I have come to understand is that even at his advanced age he represents everything that I would consider youthful, vibrant and alive. In fact, after being exposed to him, I clearly saw that the concept of ‘youth’ in this country is merely superficial and skin deep, and that young people and old alike would profoundly benefit from experiencing the life force and spirit that constantly emanates from individuals like Jóhann. I am convinced that at 95 he is the poster child for youth, vitality and strength, and anyone who claims otherwise is simply foolish. Men or women his age and younger would usually resign themselves to complacency, and often look to the nostalgia of the past or fantasy of the future just so they don’t have to be reminded of their present state of being almost dead. Jóhann lives in and for the present moment, in which the past and future are merely part of a larger continuum, and death is simply an expression of life itself in its full splendor, giving way to another birth.

Why is there such a chasm between young and old in this country? Are we so distrustful of each other that we cannot tolerate each other or even listen to each other speak? As long as I can remember, this common perception of youth as being synonymous with strength and stamina is the foundation of our modern consumer society. Its no accident that Coca Cola’s long commercial success is thanks to their ability to manipulate their audience emotionally through the magic of film and imagery, whose brand advocates ‘youth’ and ‘vitality’, and has done so for decades, shaping our collective consciousness to ignore and sideline the aging. I am not blaming it all on Coke and other corporate advertisers, since there is something called ‘free will’ and we all have the ability to use it. However, there is something to be said about the manipulative and tantalizing power and soullessness of commercial television and consumerism, which if constantly consumed, eventually erodes at our own ability to be discerning, unaffected and even motivated. I’ve been working in this industry since my mid twenties, so I say this with some authority on the matter. If Coke’s advertising efforts and genius could be refocused on healing our ailing planet and building bridges between generations instead of marginalizing one generation by championing another, I might even consider buying a bottle.

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Last week on Christmas Day, my own two children and I went to visit Jóhann at his sculpture ranch near Fredericksburg, Texas, as I had done for the very first time, exactly 13 years ago. My son at the time was only six months old. Now, he is 13 1/2. Walking through this large playground full of massive and imposing sculptures, I found it to be both interesting and very satisfying that my own son and Jóhann were both animated and visibly engaged philosophically over one of his recent sculptural pieces. What I also found to be quite uncanny, was how they both inspired one another, and that their ‘youthfulness’ was glaringly noticeable.

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In all of the time I’ve known Jóhann, interviewed him, and experienced his person, I have always come away inspired and rejuvenated. Its not to say that he is immune to low moments as a result of his solitary life, but loneliness and depression has not in the least waned his insatiable curiosity of life and his feverish dedication to the creative process as an artist and visionary.

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This time, I came away realizing the one reason why I was initially captivated by this man upon first meeting him, which subsequently led to our lasting friendship, and to dedicating 10 years of my life to making a documentary film about his life as an artist. Not only was he a source of vitality for my own tumultuous and sometimes ‘hopeless’ life, but he represents everything I would associate with youth and vitality, which I have spent most of my adult life trying to reconnect with, such as the innocence and curiosity of a child, the heart and soul of being human, and my own creative life force, among other things.

As a filmmaker, I am happy to say that the film does capture some of the magic I experienced first hand with Jóhann. Upon meeting him or seeing the film, it might inspire others, young and old alike, to understand that youth does not have to be merely skin deep, but rather an expression of joy and life.

This film is now available for public screening. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in hosting such a screening event in your home town theatre, school, museum, or even private space.

email: filmmakershowcase@gmail.com

phone: (512) 966-9299

https://www.facebook.com/AForceInNature/

 

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