On 28 Feb., a strong sense of collective curiosity and support coursed through the conference center at NYU Abu Dhabi as students and faculty devoted their Saturday afternoon to the premiere screening of Home Sick. It could be felt quite distinctly that this was more than just a gathering for entertainment purposes, but rather that the audience was here in tribute.
NYUAD professors Joanne and Jim Savio’s artistic documentary Home Sick promised not only revelations about the two professors but also offered an examination of what it means to long for home — a concept that is not alien to anybody, especially not at this university. Joanne Savio’s class Sound, Image and Story teaches many of the principles that she exhibited in this memoir-style multimedia experiment, and so many of her past students gathered to watch the film, chatting enthusiastically about seeing their professor’s work as they waited for the screening to begin.
The documentary had been in the works for two years and followed the family history of migration through Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon to the USA, Mexico and Cuba. A particular focus lay on the Lebanese ancestral villages of Amioun and Zahle, the birthplace of Joanne Savio’s mother and grandparents. Out of this journeying sprung, as the couple explained, a project about humanity rather than just the self, although the latter remained deeply interwoven.
After a short introduction explaining that the film was a process involving many interviewees and matters close to the hearts of the professors, the play button was pressed, propelling students into the world of the film.
A kaleidoscope of memorabilia ventured into personal perspectives about identity and misfit struggles, culminating with a trip to the lost, forgotten homeland of Lebanon. The mash-up style of the documentary kept the eye’s attention in such a way that the screen experience gained richness, breadth and humor. For example, the home-searching quest was portrayed in a variety of styles, such as a cartoon version of Joanne casually strolling along the streets — an antithesis to the scenes showing a dreamy shadow walking along narrow, dark corridors.
Especially endearing cartoons symbolizing events of the professor’s life, such as her transformation into a bat upon leaving the neighborhood that she never felt she had fully belonged to, discharged some of the topic’s heaviness, thus maneuvering the viewer’s focus onto the core, namely the process of finding and defining the notion of home.
According to Joanne, this exploration was built around the desire to understand.
“To understand my own alienation growing up and not feeling always at home, to understand who I am and why, to understand what the word home means to me,” Joanne Savio said of the creation’s purpose.
It is such authenticity and relatability that ultimately drew the support of the crowd, and quite rightly, the film ended up striking a chord with the audience and sparking vivid discussion as well as vocalized contemplation.
“I thought that the screening was very thought-provoking. You can sense that everyone [who] sat there was thinking about the theme of home and how it applies to themselves,” said freshman Grace Huang.
Arts events like these emphasize the ubiquitous nature of our hopes and worries.
“Home is a topic that we all ascribe importance to, despite different perceptions of the concept,” said freshman Feline Lange. “For one moment I felt very close to Joanne but on the other hand, it wasn’t really her in the film but rather an abstraction of her experience.”
Some teary-eyed and some widely smiling faces left the auditorium, now with altered horizons and perspectives in terms of how home, the past and identity are interconnected. Ultimately, film’s power as a medium to inspire connection and reflection was proven in just a half hour of material with an impact.
Natalie Kopczewski is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.