By Emmett Brennan
Six years ago I walked 200 miles through Payahuunadu (the Owens Valley, Eastern Sierras, California). I was participating in the second year of Walking Water. What a reverent group that was! Such a deep and shared care for water. I ended up learning a lot from them and that Valley.
The story of Payahuunadu and the quality of heart I found in those walkers was actually quite confronting. I’d just begun shooting a film about water and was immediately prodded to go deeper. To get closer. It took years to understand this, but my intention to create a transformational film would only succeed insofar as I myself was changed. My hardened heart needed to be truly touched by what I would eventually package for others.
This meant slowing down and expanding my perception of things. Going slow enough to notice the subtle things – the vast things. Slow enough to track the memories of a land and its people, its yearnings and celebrations, its wails and screams. And slow enough to simply gaze out… to contemplate the water that weaves together this show of forms.
The pace I’m speaking about is one of the gifts this pilgrimage offered, and it’s one of the reasons Walking Water has had such an important influence on my life and film. It’s contributed greatly to the continued dismembering of everything that keeps me feeling separate.
During a gentle reflection on some of these learnings, I began writing a poem. Here’s a current draft. It speaks of circles. You’ll find a few words on the film and it’s current status afterwards.
“Like a wave that pulses briefly into form,
life seems to froth and fold
When the Unseen leaps
with spirited presence
into the domain of shapes,
the fiddlehead is unfurled.
It’s many arms are cast wide
with a performative longing that expresses
what’s never been.
And when the curtains close –
when the fern has crested into glory –
it is relieved of animation,
and consumed by the roiling foam around it.
There is a gift in this going.
These discards of death,
the apparently seen and world-bound stuff
that remains when a wave returns home,
these remnants make our land thick
and softly undone
are draped to the floor
and kicked into the devouring spray
of a million wriggling critters
who make wombs of dead things.
You might say
the world is like a scattering of
in the intimacy of giving
become beckoning homes
for the knocking spirit.
To die into life
is to offer these fragments over to another.
to come together in conception
and make multitudes of one.
So it is
that an early ocean flicker
could drench the planet green…
is the enduring
that bends our world towards
And we of the human-kind
If lifting waves
were scooped up
and denied return,
soon the oceans would still.
Soon they would empty.
The same is true of life:
it’s the touch of return
that prods the ongoing.
So let us
encourage the ephemeral flutterings of form
to round back.
And let the hearts of our hands
for frayed and broken circles –
for the flattening influence
It’s here begins the mend.”
The film I’ve alluded to is called Reflection: a walk with water. It’s a feature length doc that looks at the weirding and eroding climate through the lens of water (and our relationship to it). Importantly, the film attempts to point towards pathways for healing. Walking Walking plays a significant role in the telling of this story and I’m forever grateful to them for all their support along the way.
We’ve had some exciting success so far. We world premiered at Tribeca in June of 2021 and had an original song written for the film by 5-time Grammy winning artist, Jacob Collier, who performed live at the premiere. We’ve gone on to play at a number of other great festivals and we’re slated for 31 runs on national French television – something like their equivalent of the Discovery Channel. We also have a sales team working to land the film a home on a major streaming service. The distribution process is not a straight line (at least not for most), so we’ll see how this ride unfolds. But I remain hopeful that the content of this film will reach the minds and hearts of many.
May it be so.