The Happy Filmmaker Blog

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  • Success as a happy filmmaker

    As we are exploring the happy filmmaking life further, I would like to start with the first part: the happiness. We will explore the filmmaking, too, don't worry. But there are already a lot of very valuable tips out there about the technique and technology, the tools of the trade. Important to know. But all the tools in the world won't make you a happy filmmaker, if you are not happy first. Truth. (It's a bit like you won't be happy in a relationship - only for a short endorphine-fuelled high at the start - if you are not happy already. Truth that one, too. Trust me. Tried it.)

    With happiness I don't mean permanent cheerfulness, ignorance of life's more difficult aspects and neverending energy that is on 24/7. If you are after those, you might have to try cocaine or for a cheaper option that doesn't land you in prison, try sugar.

    If you are after what I would define as real happiness, read on.

    Happiness to me means a certain balance where you feel most of the time that things are working out, you find, that somehow life and work are in some maginficent order and you just have to show up to be part of it. Things might go wrong sometimes, or are a bit flat, but beneath all that, there is a permanent hum of happiness inside you, of happy stillness and peace of mind.

    That to me is succeeding in happiness. First requirement for being a happy filmmaker.

    There is a great quote about success by Arnaud Desjardins:

    Everything depends on Love. If we have professional success, we feel that Life loves us, that our employers, bosses, colleagues are no enemies. Love, love; do the first step!

    I have found the following to be a good definition of success as a filmmaker: if you feel loved by your audience, you consider yourself succesful. Success as a happy filmmaker also includes the love of colleagues, financiers, commissioners, producers, anyone you might depend on to do your work.

    Regarding my films, people often thank me for the places they have transported them to. Be it the physical place of a small Greek island or the places in our imagination and ourselves, the feelings the films evoke and the inspiration people derive from them. Audience members have thanked me for taking them on a journey to a place they didn't even know existed and giving them inspiration, hope and an idea to try out in their own life. (If you would like to check that for yourself, you can watch THE ISLAND BUS, the documentary that elicited these comments, here.)

    You cannot imagined how loved I feel when someone tells me these things. Bamm, success!

    In a wider sense, not necessarily related to any of my film or video work, people usually thank me for my kindness. Which again makes me really happy, cause the Dalai Lama's postulation that kindness is THE thing to get right in life ranks high on my list of priorities.

    Friends also often thank me for listening to them and for sharing advice I have found to be useful for myself regarding any situation they find themselves in. That is an absolute win-win situation because - I suppose you have guessed it from this blog - I am rather excited about sharing the things I am excited about. (And I love a bit of DADA in my phrasing, too.)

    Then there are those skills that I might possess but those around me not to such a high degree. Can be something simple: in a foreign country, surrounded by speakers of other languages, my native German skills are often appreciated. This obviously depends on the situation I find myself in. In Berlin, those skills might be of a little less value to the crowd around me. In the company of professionals of other stripes, having a photographer's eye and the technical knowledge to create images that speak to the viewer has earned me profuse thanks from those who were in need of these images for whatever it is they wanted to be photographed or filmed.

    Then again, there are professional skills that I have received thanks for: actors who appreciated my way of directing as it allowed them to bring out their best and shine, fellow artists who appreciated my input on their writing, editing and filming. (In a way, directing is mostly that: giving those creatives working with you feedback. What I try to do is leave room for their creativity - even if I don't understand yet what they are aiming for - to come out and do its best.)

    I am listing all these things not to tell you what an amazing person I am. (If you have read this far, you either appreciate my writing yourself, so at least you would agree on that one, or you simply wonder what the whole point of all this is. Let me tell you:) This list of what people thank me for is again a guideline for me to decide what work to do, how to do it and for and with whom.

    And that's important to know if you want to be not only a filmmaker, or if you don't just want to be happy, but a happy filmmaker.

    Find out what the traits are that elicit the love Desjardins talks about: the love of colleagues, financiers, employers, and your audience. Find out what people thank you for! Chances are, those are your greatest talents. So find those out, and then do more of that.

    See you on the small or big screens of the world!

  • What really makes me angry about the world (and what I do about it)

    First off, I don't get angry so much anymore. The nagging, gnawing, clench-your-teeth angry kind of angry I mean. All the meditation, yoga and surrounding myself with my tribe, the people who make my heart sing, must have had some effect. (And it would probably make me pretty angry if that wasn't the case. In fact, I do get angry if... well, let's keep that for later.)

    But I do have my firm opinions about the world and how it should be. Again, anyone meditating long enough (and studying a bit about Buddhism or reading just one of Eckart Tolle's books) would recognise this as a "good lesson to learn": that firm opinions, in other words resistance to how things are, are the bedrock of frustration (aka suffering).

    I agree, just simmering in resistance is not a lovely place to be. Leads nowhere. But that doesn't mean that you cannot have an opinion - and want to change the things that rub you off the wrong way. Which is where anger becomes useful: there is always a silver lining, with every anger there is always something you can do about it. Actually, that fact usually dissolves my anger into - action.

    So, what do I want to change about the world?

    Oh, well.... Deep breath.

    It boggles my mind to think that we have evolved as a species to a point where we seem to have the capacity of feeding everyone, educating everyone, healing a lot of the ailments that killed or crippled our kin just a mere centuries or even decades ago (and created a few new ailments in the process just for good measure), that I find myself surrounded by masses of people who all just want the same thing: a peaceful and happy life close to those who are dearest to them - yet we still manage to kill each other, rob each other, hate each other in ways more subtle or absolutely unsubtle, just like millenia ago.

    Even those who want to live in peace and quiet join in at some point, everyone is accusing everyone else of being the reason why there is war and terror. And then we poke a bit longer in those wounds, beat our breast - or beat each other - and everything stays the same.

    Smart-alec people of my acquaintance tell me that this is just the human condition, that we need war and violence cause otherwise we get nervous. (You're right, that angers me, too.)

    Up to a point, the facts seem to support that fatalistic view. As psychologist Gay Hendricks whose advice I treasure calls this an "Upper Limit problem" and points out: "humans beings can't handle things going well for very long" . So this irritating situation our world seems to be in, is on the collective level what on the individual level turns up as self-sabotage. Fortunately, Hendricks also has an idea for how to deal with that.

    Mind you, there are ways - and actual real human beings - who act differently. And another thing that angers me is that the war-mongers and haters of all stripe get so much more airtime than those who have - maybe quietly and unbeknownst to you, but still very real - created a whole different way of living and acting and being, created a world which I am glad to inhabit.

    And now that I mention that, having found out that these people exist, that these alternatives exist, that it is just a matter of looking closely enough, soothes my anger and turns it into determination: that I want to share this, what I believe to be our real life aim, with others. So here and now (ok, actually on my way between two appointments, and yesterday) an idea for another film or series of short films is born, to show you those people who in one way or another question the state of the world as a vale of tears by their very existence and how they live their lives and act in the world.

    Cause at some point I found out that anything I am angry about I could do something about and making a film (or any creative work) is usually a very good place to start. But another thing that angers me is that many of us get stuck there: in making a film about what angers us. Which just gives it even more exposure.

    Being angry about that - and not wanting to repeat it - propelled me into finding my North Star for any new creative endeavour: I'm not focussing on what goes wrong but on where and how thing can go right.

    I can tell you, a lot less anger that way.

  • Refresh and renew with Live Your Legend's 7-day blog challenge

    Those of you who have been following me for a while, already have an idea why I am writing this blog, those of you who just started, might wonder.

    So here is a post to refresh and renew:

    • our acquaintance: Hello, dear reader! Welcome to the Happy Filmmaker blog! I am glad you have made your way here and I hope you will enjoy what you find.
    • and my own writing practice: This is why I have decided to give myself a writing boost and join Live Your Legend's 7-day Start-A-Blog challenge. Spoiler alert: you can already have a blog, like me, to join the challenge. For "The Happy Filmmaker" more than starting a blog this is about getting into a regular blogging habit again - and writing about things that are really of interest to you, the audience.

    So let's start with a brief introduction again:

    Hello, this is me, Sibylle.

    And that image pretty much sums up what this blog is about: being a happy filmmaker. To tell you what I mean by that, let me tell you a bit about this picture.

    The photo was taken by a dear colleague and friend, Pantelis Sakkadakis, a cameraman who works with me on the documentary Κάτι Υπερβατικό (Beyond the Personal). I am the director of that - and wear a whole lot of other hats as well, from the more glamorous cinematographer role to the less exciting producer and fundraiser part. The normal joys of making independent documentaries in the 21st century.

    When I started with this project in 2015 - glamouros start, I was filming three musicians who I deeply admire on a concert tour to Carnegie Hall - I did already know what I was getting myself into with this project.

    Independent documentary filmmaking is an adventure. Often a financially risky one, even if you are making a film featuring such illustrious artists as Ross Daly. The financial side makes it often frustrating, to say the least. It is sometimes also downright frightening.

    But I did know that when I started. I have already made one independent documentary film, called The Island Bus. Lots of blood, sweat and tears for that one as well.

    So where is the happiness in that filmmaking?, you might ask. Well, first of all, beyond blood, sweat and tears, it has also been an amazing ride. I met the most wonderful people making that first documentary, learned a million things, had to overcome almost as many hurdles (my personal favourite for scariness was my first ever TV interview as a director, on national lunchtime TV, live - in a language I was only starting to be fluent in). And these are just the showy things. The real beauty lies in making the film itself.

    Which leads us back to the photo, cause it has a lot of the ingredients of the happy filmmaking life:

    When Pantelis snapped that shot of me, we were filming an interview with Ido Segal, a virtuoso on the Hansa Veena, a kind of Indian slide guitar. Not only is Ido a musician whose playing I love listening to, he is also a very lovely person. We were talking about topics that we both found deeply engaging, the location was in the courtyard of a dear friend who let us borrow her house for a stunning backdrop to the interview, I was working with three people in the team who are not only good at what they do but also great fun to be around (apart from Pantelis, there was Nickolay Dorozhkin on the camera, and Klairi Kefalogianni recording sound). It was a beautiful summer's day, I was deeply immersed in the production of Κάτι Υπερβατικό as we were filming musical seminars, concerts and interviews with many of the musicians who teach and perform during the summer months at Labyrinth Musical Workshop in Crete near where I live.

    The interview went well, everybody was happy and even a little bit goofy and silly when we finished the shoot and I was in the flow. A dream project of mine was coming to life. It is a film that I care about deeply. It is a film about how art - music in this case - and the act of creating it brings together people from all over the world, who could be divided by nationality, culture, education, status, experience, religion. But they are not. Their music unites them and us, the audience, in the process. It recently occured to me that in a way the piece of music the film is about, a composition by Ross Daly, is more effective than UN Peace Talks.

    This is precisely the kind of film I love to make.

    In the picture, I am making it.

    The Happy Filmmaking life consists of - you guessed it - making films and being happy while you do it.

    How do you get to that point? That is the question I am exploring in this blog.

    Judging from that picture, ingredients include the following:

    • being able to make films - this might involve a whole lot of creativity before you even get to creating the film itself. I mean, creativity in finding the means to do it. There are very encouraging and in some cases innovative ways out there to help us with that and I am devoting my own working life and also parts of this blog to finding them and trying them out. (For one of my recent findings, suggested by a caring friend, check out the previous blog entry about Jack Conte's TED talk introducing Patreon.)

    • working in an environment that is good for you - that includes your geographical environment. There are filmmakers all over the world, not "just" in Hollywood, Mumbai, London, Berlin, Paris, Rome or any other big cinematic city. Sure, there are more of us in those places, yes, some opportunities might be easier to come by, networking is a different thing, but if you don't want to or cannot or simply are not there (and I currently am not, though I have lived and made films in two of the cities mentioned above), and enjoy where you are, it should also be possible to work as a filmmaker. It might be different. I am not only making this documentary. I also work as a location scout, as a local line producer for foreign productions. I film music videos, promo videos - and if need be, I do a whole lot of other jobs, from creative to mundane, to be able to make films right here where I am. To make films, you often have to change your location anyway. But if your environment makes you happy, that's a pretty good start. Greece does make me happy, the islands in particular. So working out how to combine the two is one of my missions. (Why I think Greece is so good for me will take up too much space here now, but is a good topic to explore in another post, cause I think I have found some parametres that universially make for good living.)

    • working with people whose creativity sparks your own (and vice versa) and whose company you enjoy - which is actually still part of the environment. The people you work with should be the people you want to spend your time with. Cause you will be spending an aweful lot of time with them anyway. I have been on too many draining, ego-fuelled, anxiety-obsessed and backbiting-inducing shoots in my life, I don't need any more of that. Funny enough, there seems to be a cliché about the world of filmmakers being like that. I have found that to be wrong. I know a ton of creative people who are also wonderful human beings. I keep them as close as I can. And try to be wonderful myself - as much as I can. And luckily enough, there are a lot of tips and tricks out there to reach that Zen state. Anything that helps us being more happy makes us also nicer to be around with - and guess what: happy workplaces produce faster and better work. Take that, Sony execs and bitching film crowd. For a long time now, I model my behaviour not anymore on the despotic directors or the bitching creatives I have met in my time, but try to learn from my happiest, kindest and most accomplished friends. Some of them run small businesses, some are stay at home parents, some are successful writers, producers or directors. It doesn't matter what they do, their attitude and how they achieved it is what I'm interested in emulating.

    • mining your own creative "genius" - which is simply to say: make work that you deeply care about and that you want to be associated with and known for. In my case, this means working on films that I would like to see more of myself, and that I believe can inspire their audience to enjoy their lives more, be kinder to themselves and others, find wealth in themselves and their lives, and explore routes they are longing to explore. I believe in this kind of work and want to see more of it. (Not only from myself but also from others, cause I really enjoy watching it, and I believe there isn't enough of it in the world yet.) So when I feel I am working on something like that, happiness levels soar. To explore what this work can be and how to create it, is another focus of this blog.

    • connecting with an audience who is looking for exactly that kind of film you are making - which is downright the best reason and the most important one to make films at all.

    And I think that about covers it, my definition of The Happy Filmmaker.

    Be sure there will be more added as we go. But I hope it has served as a re-introduction and given you an idea - and maybe some questions or thoughts to ponder yourself - about what you will get on this blog.

    Happy to have you met you here!

    See you again soon!

  • Switch off your TV - or change the content. Actively. You've got the power.

    This morning, with the news from the new Paris attacks steadily ticking in, it feels incredibly sad to be writing anything here - and even worse not to write.

    I feel sad with compassion for the victims and those who love them, for their suffering and shock and despair. It is the same sadness that I feel about the victims of the horrific violence we are witnessing in various parts of the world, further away and very close by. Yes, of course, I feel a stronger pang of fear for those I know and I know to be in the vicinity of immediate danger. It doesn't matter whether these people are in France, Lebanon, Syriah, Turkey, Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan or the Aegean Sea... the list goes on. It is only natural to hope that your friends are safe and to reach out to them first - but my imagination is strong enough to fathom that those people who I have never met because they have not crossed my path yet feel the same fear and shock, it's not hard to imagine that they, too, love and despair about the loss of loved ones and violence directed at them.

    And there is another sadness that is oddly mixed with anger: sadness and anger about the fact that a film project about religious or racially motivated violence would possibly now get so much more attention and interest than this film about the culture of the very same region and countries I mentioned above and about the fact that there are artists who manage to transcend the stereotypes, the hatred, the stigma and work and play side by side. 

    I don't care whether you think it is selfish to write about my documentary on a day like this. I know that if anything, this film is not selfish, this attempt of mine to bring something of what I experience in this music and in the people performing it to you, is my way of contributing to - peace! Yes, nothing more and nothing less.

    A friend who is living with his family in Paris wrote on Facebook this morning "we're fine. Prayers for the victims. Switch off your TV, terror for your mind, not peace." I hear him. I know what he means. Yet, I don't want to switch off my TV (I don't have one, anyway), I don't want to recoil, resignate - I want to change the content. It is my job. I make that stuff you watch on your TV and in the movies. I make movies.

    But you can change the content, too. The world is what we allow it to be. No, we must never turn a blind eye to injustice, we should stand up for what we stand for. I stand for the fact that humanity is more than the crap we are seeing. We are all better than the image of ourselves we allow to show up at the moment. And, yes, lots of what is east and south of the Mediterranean shore is so much better, so much more human than what we allow our TV programs to broadcast.

    Switch your screen back on and change the program. Yes, my suggestion would be to try the documentary about the musicians of Labyrinth Musical Workshop that I am preparing together with Victoria Trzeciak and the team of Tola Films. We are running an Indiegogo campaign to raise the funds for filming a concert of Ross Daly, Kelly Thoma and Marijia Katsouna at Carnegie Hall in December and are looking for support from you. It is my suggestion and I stand for it.

    Having met Ross Daly and getting to know his work and music has for me personally - and countless others who I have talked to - been nothing less than an eye-opener, a new path into the world of the East so many of us know so little about, has rung so true to what humanity should be about and - I will continue to believe - at its core is. I - personally, as Sibylle - find it worthy to get made. If you join me in this conviction and have the means to do so, please consider contributing to the project. You will find all necessary information if you click on the link below.

    With great hopes that we can turn the world into the place we want it to be, thank you!
    Peace and music to you all!

     



  • The Different Documentary Filmmaker’s Hats...

    ...or How to make your brain switch from colours to counting (in 37 degrees)

    (NOTE: This post first appeared on the blog to my feature documentary THE ISLAND BUS in June 2012, but it tackles subjects that are very much part of the Happy Filmmaker's disposition. So I take the liberty to "recycle" the article here and make it available to a fresh audience. Enjoy!)

    "While racing through my filmmaker’s life lately – fortunately at the moment the private life takes place on a reasonably remote island with a beach at my front door, so not much racing is needed there (and maybe that is intentional…) – so, while racing through my filmmaker’s life, I noticed that a): I love it and b): there are actually quite a few “brain modes” you go through while making a documentary. I have recently worked on a short TV report where those different modes followed each other in quick succession, but they are all part of making The Island Bus, too.

    Which creative hat to wear today?

    The Gut Feeling –
    is what first attracts you to a documentary subject or any creative project, and is named after the body part where you experience it. To explain it to those who claim they are not creative – there is no such thing, read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, but anyway – this bears a lot of similarities with falling in love: it hits you in the most unexpected ways, is totally irrational and sometimes even hard to put into words, but your curiosity is triggered and chances are you will go to some length to make it happen. (And it’s exciting and scary and fulfilling and fun, all at the same time.)

    That mood.

    The Pitching Stage –
    is when formally or just to friends and possibly interested collaborators you start to put into words what you want to do. This can reach from: “I think it would be a great idea to make a film about life on Tilos by just driving around on the bus all day and showing the different things Pavlos does” – which is (you guessed it) the first sentence about The Island Bus that ever left my lips – but can also take the far more formal and articulated form of a written proposal in which you tell the whole story as you think it might happen. It is incidentally my least favourite part of the whole process. Because I don’t like writing about films. Don’t get me wrong: I love writing (hadn’t you noticed!) but I don’t like writing about something I want to show in (moving) images. It never seems right. I think this is a sentiment shared by many filmmakers and contested by producers and financiers who – for good reasons – want to understand what your gut feeling is all about.

    Wouldn’t it be fun to go around Tilos all day on the bus…?

    The Numbers –
    once you have convinced anyone to actually pay for that film you want to make (and even more so if you haven’t but are bankrolling it yourself), you need to calculate how to do it. Sums, counting, logistics and a lot of rational thoughts are involved to work out the best possible way – and how much all this is going to cost. It’s actually more fun than it sounds – as you get to spend some time trawling travel booking websites and looking at nice cameras and other geeky stuff – an activity that never fails to excite me.

    Counting sheep.

    The Hectic –
    can occur at any time during the process but seems to hit me most often once I got the go-ahead and realise: this is really going to happen. For some reason, things seem to speed up at this stage and I find myself wanting to go to that beach very very much… Best survived by thinking of the beach – but starting the project.

    Not a good time for second thoughts.

    The Colours, Shapes, Sounds and Movement, in other words: the Flow –
    when I’m out there with a camera, capturing those moments. I sometimes really feel – David Cronenberg would like this – as if the camera and I turn into this hybrid creature: it is an extension of my arm that feels natural and feeds my eye images, a flowing, floating process, very hard to describe. In fact, words are difficult at this stage – see The Pitching Stage – which means that interviews often interrupt this flow. Especially when conducted in a language that is not so familiar (and – shame on me – even after all those years Greek is not familiar enough), I really struggle to speak while I’m filming. Apparently there is a brain research explanation for this. There are ways to get around it, little tricks that make sure I can create images and elicit words at the same time – luckily, really. How else would The Island Bus ever happen? In general, filming (like writing for the sake of writing) feels like swimming: a moving, flowing action that is best not thought about too much.

    The Edit –
    I love it. The more often I get to edit anything, the more I learn and the more I discover and the more I love it. It is really “writing a documentary”, but this time you have got those colours, shapes, sounds and movement and can use them to form – a film. You can completely lose yourself in an edit – and it helps when there are thoughtful people near who remind you that it’s a good idea to eat sometimes…

    The Round-up –
    yet another rational moment when it’s time to deliver what you’ve worked on and have to make sure that it is really all there. Constant checks and balances and a lot of technology involved – which usually fails. In fact, as I write this, I am fighting it out with a little virtual animal named Cyberduck – a program used to connect to an FTP-server to upload my work which does not just do what it should, but needs to be prompted now and then. A patience test.

    Staying on top of the cable chaos.

    The Socializing –
    filmmaking in general is collaboration and when making a documentary you have the added bonus of being thrown into worlds very different from your own. So there is lots to discover, a lot of communication to be done and you feel overwhelmed as a default setting. At some stage you will also feel very tired from all those wondrous things you see and the constant decision making. 

    Sousta – also a collaborative action.

    The Utterly Distracting Life –
    which is usually when you are confronted with the fact that there is a whole life to be lived that has very little to do with your filmmaking. It’s usually a baffling realisation. Re-entry into that life can be confusing. It’s worth it, though, because you finally get to go to that beach – and get more material for the next documentary project and more chances for one of those unexpected moments of gut feeling…"

    (NB: first published 22/06/2012 here)

  • Everything changes when you decide to go through life thinking about how and what you can give instead of how to get what you want or avoid the things you fear. For example, if you are going to a party where you don’t know anyone, you can create a lot anxiety for yourself by worrying, “How can I get people to like me? How can I avoid being alone?” However, if you walk in thinking, “What can I give? I can give people my smile, my interest, my acceptance and my sense of humor,” you will feel great. The moment you decide to give, your heart opens and Spirit fills you with love and peace.

    Erika Chopich/Margaret Paul: Inner Bonding
  • The Sweet Smell of Success

    The Sweet Smell of Success

    Lately, I have had quite a few things to celebrate: apart from a birthday which turned out to be pretty spectacular in a unique way, there was a world premiere of THE ISLAND BUS, and another one, this time in the form of the Internet launch of Catalysta.org - career catalyst for the common good - and the web docu series DREAM JOB I have been working hard to help create for over a year now, there was a memorial retrospective art exhibition of my late mother's paintings, there is a national premiere coming up, a festival screening in competition and an avant-premiere that is promising to be a wonderful gathering of friends, supporters and total strangers who will join me for the first ever screening of the director's cut of my first ever feature length documentary. In other words, the filmmaker in me had quite a bit of happiness to share and go around.

    I like sharing my happiness. I go around like a three-year-old, bouncing up and down, squeaking: "Isn't this wonderful? I am soooo pleased. I really am." An ex-boyfriend likened me to a puppy, he said: "You get so excited and happy - and then sometimes something dampens your mood and you are upset for a bit. But then you bounce up again and run around in circles wagging your tail - figuratively speaking - and are all smiles and happiness again." While I leave the hobby (and studied) psychologists among you to decide what his simile said about our relationship ;) and while the image might not be congruent with the classy, lady-like appearance that another part of me likes to display, a lot of it hits the point.

    Yes, I do get excited about my successes and yes, I like sharing that excitement - for one simple and very pure reason: cause it is a great feeling and I want others to participate.

    I am not entirely sure how this participation can work, there is no chemical process I could control that transmits my emotions to others, so a bit of empathy and willingness from your side is required. But for sure I do want you to feel happy about this. As happy as I feel. If I could cut my happiness up like a birthday cake and give each of you a slice, I would.

    Years of happy experience and being a figurative puppy have taught me that this doesn't always happen the way I imagine it. In fact, one of my strongest childhood memories regarding sharing my happiness about an achievement contained the very opposite reaction.

    I was playing with a friend at her house, we were seven (me) and six years old, respectively. We went to the same primary school which for some reason had an extra class reserved for exceptionally gifted children. It was a few extra hours of school every week, so not exactly something any child would look forward to. Yet, as I had discovered, in that class you got to do the really cool stuff cause the students were allowed to choose the topics they wanted to deal with and all those fields I felt thoroughly neglected in my regular education (like theatre, films, Ancient Egypt - yes, sorry, those were my preferences as a seven year old, but I am sure rugby, car engines and photographic mechanics would have made the cut as well) were now in reaching distance. And I had recently been deemed worthy of attending. (The whole process of selection I found deeply suspicious - no doubt influenced by my psychologist and educational expert mother whose ideas of education looked somewhat different, more nourishing than controlling.) But nevertheless, it was a promising achievement - mainly for what it would allow me to experience.

    So I told my friend V, not forgetting to add: "I am sure, next year you'll get to do it too!" And I was sure. I totally believed in her capacity to be selected for that stupid class and therefore experience the fun of widening her horizons according to what she liked.

    Enter the voice of her mother who was a primary school teacher at another school and had overheard our conversation. She said a single word - but that left me speechless and it has taken about twenty years until I recognised it fully for what it was. All she said was: "Show-off!"

    I didn't defend myself. In fact, I didn't even know what I had done wrong. I just went home and let the comment "show-off" sink to the bottom of my consciousness - and ferment there for a few decades.

    These days I like recalling the story and I feel a lot of empathy for the mother who wanted to protect her child from the exaggerated expectations and disappointment that "failure" could mean. I feel empathy for the teacher who felt resentment against someone who seemed to effortlessly achieve something and boast about it while she might have struggled with other children and their capacities herself. Yet, non of those feelings justifies spoiling the party of a seven-year-old who was genuinely happy to have the opportunity to occupy herself with something that interested her. By the way, the class turned out not to be that spectacular after all. I don't even remember what we did there. (Or is that maybe just my denial mechanism that was scared of enjoying too much after that dampening comment? ;) Maybe the puppy hadn't leapt up again yet.) In any case, it was a very impressive lesson about the sweet smell of success - and how it can stink like faeces to others.

    This morning in my meditation, the same topic came up again. I am on headspace.com's Happiness series at the moment, and the topic is - very fittingly - enjoyment. Our own capacity of enjoying not only our own happy moments but equally the happiness of others.

    "Do you genuinely feel happy with them if those around you tell you about something that excites them?", was one of the questions. "And imagine now what it is like if others genuinely share your happiness when you have something great to tell them. And what does it feel like if they are a bit indifferent or maybe even resentful?" Those questions of course provoke the realisation that as much as it is lovely if you have people who can genuinely join your celebration, it is as pleasant for them if you can genuinely enjoy their success. It just makes for more happiness all around. Full stop.

    The meditation exercise is designed to enable you to enjoy the success of others as much as you would (and are enjoying) your own. And the funny thing is: once you have learnt to be happy for others, you can also easily get rid of the feeling of guilt if you have something to celebrate yourself. Everyone allows you to celebrate your birthday - it's something we all have, so no fear of anyone being in advantage, heaven forbid. I would suggest that we should start allowing anyone to celebrate anything, every tiny little bit of achievement is worth making a big noise about it.

    So here I am telling you while I have lots of things at the moment to worry about, I also have a few wonderful achievements to be grateful and happy and - yes - proud of. I know exactly who those people are who helped with them and they know it, too, I hope, and one of those people was I, myself. So I am celebrating and I invite you all to my party.

    Film schools and the film industry with its competitiveness can be pretty daunting places to celebrate success without fearing a stab in the back - or so we are told. But here is what I found: those colleagues I really relate to and whose work interests me happen to be also the ones who seem to be most genuinely happy and excited about others achieving what they had set out to do or even more. So I dare suggest that in order to become really interesting and original filmmakers, we should start loving the success of others as much as our own. That way, we certainly also become happier filmmakers.

    Here is to the sweet smell of things well achieved and celebrated! Raise your glass to all of us!

    With love,

    Sibylle, a very happy filmmaker