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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

Columbus

by writer/director Kogonada

I used to stare at my bedroom ceiling and imagine what it would feel like not to exist. The first time I cried and went to my parents’ room to explain the dread.

It was the weekend. I was nine. My father told me not to worry and go play. So I did.

A lot has happened since then….

Columbus is about the relationship between absence and presence—in our lives, in architecture, in cinema.

In the film, Jin and Casey must each contend with the impending absence of a parent. For Jin, it is the death of his father. For Casey, it is the inevitable separation from her mother. Both feel the weight of their filial relationships but in significantly different ways.

How do we respond to absence? This is the question that has haunted modernism (and nine-year-old Asians growing up in the Midwest).

Is there meaning in the emptiness? Or is it simply a lack that must be endured? Or, worse, an abyss? Can absence really make the heart grow fonder? Are byes ever good? What are we to make of this specter of nothingness?

In art, negative space has value. The relationship between absence and presence is vital—each revealing the other. To me, the dance between the two is most evident in modern architecture. When the balance is off, modernism can often feel cold or indulgent. But when harmony exists (even in dissonance), a modern form can awaken us to the significance of the now.

Is this true? Can forms awaken us? I’ve admittedly wondered at times if art really matters, if architecture matters, if cinema matters—if these are not merely decorations to distract us from everyday life.

Then I’ll remember….

I was nine once staring at the blankness of my ceiling and feeling that I might be swallowed up by nothingness. Later, I’d experience life in the dark, here and there, as if I’d already fallen half way into the abyss.

And art mattered to me then. It altered me. It gave me space to breathe and question. It changed my sense of the world. It made me mindful of others. It shaped my politics. It revealed that nothingness might be somethingness.

I was Casey once. And Jin once. And will be so again and again.