By Nancy Austin, PhD – newportFILM Outdoors Summer 2018 Humanities Blogger
With support from the Rhode Island Council on the Humanities (RICH)
Outliers loom large in myth and legends speaking to something beyond reason within the human psyche. Join newportFILM on September 6, 2018 for a consummate director’s look at our fascination with outliers from the unusual perspective of a mysterious whale – virally named “the 52-hertz whale” or “the world’s loneliest whale”. Finding 52 is one artist’s response to a scientist’s obsessed documentation with a never-seen whale that vocalized on a “different drummer” frequency. Finding 52 is a feel-good departure for director Josh Zeman, who is highly regarded for his previous thoughtful work on the oral tradition of terrifying urban legends, the serial killer Cropsey, the series The Killing Season, as well as Mysterious Skin and The Station Agent. Finding 52 speaks to our human need to create a story out of data points and name the mystery. Zeman’s new documentary is a call for storytellers to partner with data-driven scientists as we navigate disruption. Here, Zeman is using the documentary as an art form – a powerful contemporary genre for building civic emotional intelligence on a foundation of facts.
Like the civic role given to classical theater, newportFILM’s public film screening of Finding 52 is an opportunity for public catharsis. Collectively we journey with the director as he explores why we, as humans, are drawn to stories about mysteries, and the lengths to which we will go to get answers. The documentary is a fact-filled quest story to reveal the truth about a legend that in truth may or may not be resolved. Maybe naming the whale is all we can do? In a recent podcast interview, Finding 52’s director, Josh Zeman, reflected on our human impulse to name mysteries as a way to manage and control powerful emotions. He mentioned the Rumpelstiltskin legend, which hinges on the Queen’s ability to name her powerful, yet mysterious visitor,and regain control. Zeman recalled the valuable lessons always hidden in the terrifying urban legends his mother often told him as a child. Scientists contribute to our body of knowledge, but the storyteller’s role is essential for our whole well-being.
Finding 52 wraps up newportFILM’s 12-week summer season of free public outdoor documentaries. This season’s films pushed the theme of belonging and possibility in Far From the Tree to Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the young nerds of Science Fair or the completely different tribe that breathed life into Studio 54. Other documentaries told inspiring tales of passionate pursuit, as featured in Chef Flynn, Life in the Doghouse and Unstoppable. The combustible interplay of curiosity, caution and hubris is a theme I found manifest in the very different films The Price of Everything, Three Identical Strangers, and The Serengeti Rules. Don’t miss out on the final summer film of 2018 about an outlier whale named 52. Will we find the whale? What will it mean if we do, or do not? Come hear the story.
For twelve weeks, from June 21st to September 6th, newportFILM has consistently delivered outstanding documentaries at delightful, curated pop-up events co-hosted by a dozen spectacular cultural venues across Aquidneck Island. I have watched this non-profit civic engagement project grow over the years, and remain deeply impressed and grateful. This outdoor summer series of contemporary documentaries brings together hundreds of locals and visitors to share, enjoy, and discuss. The featured directors in the weekly post-film discussion is remarkable, and deepens the dialogue over content and the creative process. In my opinion, newportFILM has changed the way we, on Aquidneck Island, inhabit public space in the twenty-first century.
Please join newportFILM on September 6, 2018 for Finding 52, screening at 7:25pm outdoors at King Park (overlooking Newport Harbor) on Wellington Ave, Newport, RI 02840. This event is free and open to the public beginning at 5:30pm. BYO picnic with food truck options. Live music by Randy Robbins and Bill Bartholomew beginning at 6:10pm. Plan to stay after for discussion with director Joshua Zeman. What’s not to love about newportFILM!? Have comments to share? Join the discussion on the newportFILM blog.