I am so tired of waiting.
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two–
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.
-Langston Hughes, Good Morning, Revolution: Uncollected Social Protest Writings
The winner of the Vimeo Staff Pick Award at Palm Springs Shortfest 2022 is “Meantime” by Michael T Workman. Michael planted a camera in his Dad Tim’s house to make a “deeply personal exploration of memory, guilt, labor, and the attempt to preserve the fleeting.” At least, that’s what its logline says. What is so beautiful about this documentary is that it isn’t truly about those vague descriptions of human sentiment. “Meantime” focuses a magnifying glass on the product of evils that plague the United States: capitalism, inhumane labor practices, inadequate support for those who suffer from mental illness, and the reality that the American motto of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is a physically impossible feat. The film outlines the ways in which the United States fails to fully take care of its people, from birth to death. As Michael eloquently states in our Q&A: “
“It may not be obvious, but I believe that the subject of this film is the inhumanity of capitalism. …My dad is a product of a system that views people as “human resources,” a system that dehumanizes those who are unable to fit into a strict regime of labor exploitation. “
As austere in its filmmaking as the bleak Montana winter its set in, “Meantime” is a film about wounded souls who nonetheless grew into kind and loving people.
We asked Michael some questions about the creation of this personal family portrait and were moved by his thoughtful and warm answers. Read on for excerpts from our conversation with him.
“The inspiration for this film came to me after helping my dad digitize his home videos. While reviewing them, I had these profoundly emotional moments in the small, seemingly unimportant moments my dad captured. It was not the birthdays, christmas parties or weddings that were the most affecting. It was the moments where my family was caught in between, waiting for something important to happen and just talking, arguing or joking. In those moments I saw the people I knew at different phases of their lives and my understanding of their experience began to deepen. I had always been pretty averse to the idea of making personal films, but reviewing that footage and finding myself back home in Montana led me to want to create this film.”
His tips on filming family:
“Working with your family is so hard. Knowing when to turn off the camera and just exist was the biggest challenge. By the end of the process my dad and I were over filming. I think I’m good with just hiding behind my lens now. My tip for filmmakers working with family would be to structure times and situations in which you are going to film and use that as a limitation. Don’t shoot everything all of the time, and don’t chase what’s happening. Think through what you want to film and then let the camera roll. When you are done you are done. You will miss things and that’s fine. What’s important is that you create a scenario in which what you do capture will have a higher likelihood of being deep and compelling. Then turn off the camera and go back to living your life.”
On his family’s reaction to the film:
“My family has seen the film. I showed it to my mom when I finished; it was the most intense viewing experience I’ve had. Since this film is so personal I would go through waves of feeling completely numb to it and moments of profound emotion. While watching it with my mom, small subtleties in the film made me tear up uncontrollably. It just goes to show how much the context of the audience you are viewing a film with can deeply change the experience of that film. It was a healing experience for both of us and she learned more about my dad’s perspective that she couldn’t see then.
I was most nervous about showing it to my dad. We were going to watch it together but the timing wasn’t right so he decided to watch it on his own. When he called me and told me he watched it, my heart sank. He said something along the lines of “Mike, I watched your film, it’s a good film, and I never want to see it again.” The primary source of anxiety for him wasn’t the vulnerability of what he shared; instead it was watching himself on screen and hearing his own voice that was most uncomfortable (for me too).”
On challenges faced:
“The hardest part of making this film was creating distance between myself and the film. I think this is the primary struggle with personal work and where it fails most often. Personal films can be emotional to the filmmaker but not the audience. I wanted to avoid this at all costs and attempt to distance myself from the film and view it as someone who does not know me. Since I was the editor, this was a constant challenge. I overcame this by having many trusted people around me who gave me honest critical feedback.”
What he’d like us to consider upon viewing the film:
“It may not be obvious, but I believe that the subject of this film is the inhumanity of capitalism. Ultimately, this is the primary source of my dad’s struggle to have a fulfilled and comfortable life. While abuse may be the inciting incident of my dad’s struggle, the lack of support to heal from that trauma is a societal failure, not an individual failure. My dad is a product of a system that views people as “human resources,” a system that dehumanizes those who are unable to fit into a strict regime of labor exploitation.
Capitalism gives working class people two options: work or beg on the street. While this is never explicitly stated in the film, it is the subterranean foundation of the story. If people in my dad’s position had access to robust mental and physical healthcare, housing, and food without the need to justify their humanity through working in terrible conditions, they could live fulfilled and safe lives where they could work on healing their trauma.
The crucial detail in the opening title cards of the film is that my dad’s stroke was triggered by a panic attack at work because the company was trying to maximize profit by understaffing the nursing home where he worked. I realized this was a recurring situation for him while making this film when I discovered that stress at work rather than the stress of having a family was what led to my dad’s mental health crisis when I was a child.
I also hope that this film inspires people to treasure the time they have with their loved ones and discuss trauma and hardship in an empathetic and open-minded environment. Ultimately the emotional core of this film is about caring for our parents through understanding them as complex humans and valuing the limited time you have with them.”
Michael’s advice to aspiring filmmakers:
“I always tell my students that they should fight tooth and nail to maintain their childish excitement for making movies. Every step of the way, this industry will try to force you into the meat grinder of work and turn you into someone else’s tool. They will try to take all of the fun out of it and create artificially high stakes for making the most asinine content. Anyone who has worked on a large advertising set will understand this. My advice is to always be working on something that gets you excited, if your wage labor job doesn’t. Keep working on your own films or creative hobbies that make you feel like an artist. If you get into Sundance, but you’ve lost the joy of filmmaking, why are you even doing this?”
“I’m developing a feature documentary idea that will be a woven-narrative character-driven observational film in a mining town in Montana. It’s in the early stages of development so I can’t say much more than that at the moment.
I’m also working on a project about people who have jobs that they know are completely useless. If you have a job like this, please reach out and email me. We are currently casting.”