Finding honest inspiration can be challenging, and finding out how to use that inspiration is even more challenging. So, let’s just do the easy part!
This list of films, documentaries, books, and websites have inspired me in my pursuit of filmmaking. This list is definitely personal, and not everyone’s taste will agree with mine. To develop your craft and find inspiration, I encourage you to investigate these works on their own terms and experience them as freshly as I did!
(Editor’s note: We believe that God’s common grace extends to the arts, and that he did not bless only Christians with creative talent. We explore the culture around us for inspiration and to learn about our craft, and we can often learn from art we don’t entirely agree with. If you would like more information before viewing these films, the parental guides at IMDB for each film are helpful.)
400 Blows (narrative film): From the genius director François Truffaut, one of the pioneers of French New Wave, comes this film. It follows an adolescent boy in Paris who seems to be a troublemaker throughout the entirety of his character arc. I could list tons of French New Wave films, but I will spare you with just this one. The most eye appealing and inspiring thing through this era of film is their experimentation of film form through shooting real locations and little to no setup time. One of the most encouraging things about watching these types of films is that Truffaut and many filmmakers alike, created these with very VERY low budget, if any at all.
The Graduate (narrative film): Mike Nichols, director, tells a story of a recent college graduate, Benjamin Braddock, who doesn’t seem to know what’s next after graduating. It might pull on my heartstrings because I watched this for the first time transitioning out of college, but the shot duration, camera placement, and many other visuals are truly inspiring!
Hoop Dreams (documentary): When I watch this film, I see extreme dedication to a story. It follows two young African American boys for 5 years in high school, as we watch their basketball career shape through many trials. It is just a phenomenal film to sit through! The filmmakers dedicated their time to this film not knowing what the outcomes would be, and that is something to always aspire to do.
Submarine (narrative film): I don’t even know how to fully explain why I love this film. The story follows a young boy, Oliver Tater, as he is torn between developing a relationship with a newfound girlfriend, or to save a failing relationship between his parents. The cinematography is absolutely amazing! It gives so many homages to film enthusiasts, i.e. Star Wars, Jean Luc-Godard, Ingmar Bergman, Wes Anderson, and the list could go on. For anyone who inspires to be a cinematographer, this is a film to see.
Chef’s Table (documentary series): This is a fairly new series that is produced by Netflix, and comes from the creator of Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It follows some amazing food artists from around the world, and again the cinematography of this show is absolutely astonishing! All I can say, is just give it a try. (Disclaimer: it will make you hungry)
The Master and Margarita (novel): Satire is something I personally love, and Mikhail Bulgakov made a masterpiece when he wrote this novel. It was written somewhere in the 30’s (no one knows the exact date), but it was never published until 1967 due to censorship. Satan takes a visit to Soviet Russia and he is happy to be in a place highly atheistic, but suddenly it takes a quick turn on the literary elite.
“But would you kindly ponder this question: What would your good do if evil didn’t exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared? After all, shadows are cast by things and people. Here is the shadow of my sword. But shadows also come from trees and living beings. Do you want to strip the earth of all trees and living things just because of your fantasy of enjoying naked light? You’re stupid.”
The Grimms’ Fairytales (various fairy tales): Oh do I love fairy tales! One of my favorite classes in college was a Russian Fairy Tales class, and in this book specifically, I had so much inspiration from what seemed like shallow stories, but in reality they turn into so much more depth when studying them. I’ll just leave this quote right here because I could never say it better than C.S. Lewis himself:
“I wrote fairy tales because the Fairy Tale seemed the ideal Form for the stuff I had to say. Then of course the Man in me began to have his turn. I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralyzed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. As obligation to feel can freeze feelings.”
Anna Karenina (novel): I would say this is Leo Tolstoy’s greatest novel, and one of the greatest ever written. It follows two stories side by side: Anna’s and Levin’s. Anna Karenina is in the aristocratic society, and follows a tragic storyline of her affair with Count Vronksy. While Konstantin Levin desperately wants to marry the daughter, Kitty, of Anna’s brother, Oblonsky. It’s hard to write much more than that without giving a dissertation, but something I loved to examine is Tolstoy’s own struggle with faith throughout the novel itself.
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
VICE News (news.vice.com): Vice news is producing some great content, with access to places I don’t even understand how they get themselves into. It’s obviously more of a journalistic approach to filmmaking and has more of a guerrilla style, but you can learn a lot from their form.
Vimeo Top Feed (vimeo.com): This is something I do periodically, and always try to stay up-to-date on things that are being created now. Inspiration always comes in many shapes, forms, and sizes. Vimeo staff has a great collection of pieces from all around the world that tell many stories.
Feature image by Christian Rudman