Unlimited: Joyful Journeys by Lou Sarabadzic

 
A photo of bright winter sunlight hitting a wooden door with frosty windows

Produced as a direct response to the isolation of lockdown and her own experience of anxiety, Lou Sarabadzic’s Joyful Journeys is a set of four short films exploring some of the challenges we experience inside and outside of home, how we can foster creative connections and find joy and/or support even under the most challenging circumstances.

The piece is one of a diverse series of micro-commissions awarded to local artists in partnership with Unlimited as part of our Reform the Norm programme. In our latest guest blog, Lou tells us more about her project and the process of creating the four films.

 

For my commission I have worked in collaboration with four participants to produce a set of short films focused on the theme of joy.

Initially, I held a public call-out asking people to submit audio or video recordings exploring things that brought them joy, and from the submissions I received, I selected four that I would eventually develop further into the films that make up Joyful Journeys.

When I first started work on this project, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what the final output would look like or what it would be about. Although I had this overarching theme of “joy”, like many people I felt a bit lost at the time, so it was really important to me to make it very clear that people could interpret this in whatever way they chose. I didn’t want it to be off-putting to people who perhaps hadn’t experienced a lot of joy in their lives recently.  

The world has been so difficult to navigate over the last year and a half, especially for people who are disabled and/or neurodiverse, and I was very conscious that those were the voices I wanted to include in this work. In addition, I certainly didn’t want for this work to deny challenges and struggles, on the contrary. By talking about joy, you are also talking about how difficult it can be to even find, reach or access joy... so I was very moved that participants felt they could share the difficulties as well as the positives of their own journeys.  

I always knew that I was going to produce a film for this commission, because I wanted to use its multisensory aspect to welcome as many people as possible. Since film combines audio and visual elements, and text can both be heard and seen, it can be experienced by people in different ways, ensuring that fewer people were excluded. But beyond that, my ideas developed organically in response to the submissions I received. Another important point is that due to OCD, I can find it extremely hard to go out, even when I really miss it, and the film sequences probably reflect that.  

My plan was originally to create one film that would bring together submissions from the four different contributors. However, after the call-out, it soon became clear to me that it would make more sense to keep them separate – partly because turning them into one film would have resulted in a very long film, which would have been much more difficult to share online; but also because, each of the individual ideas was so strong that I wanted to make sure I did justice to them all.

Three of the four submissions I received were exclusively in audio and text format, although one of the artists, Emilie Lauren Jones, submitted visuals along with her audio poetry recording, which I have included in her film along with some contributions of my own. For the others, the visual content comes from my own daily surroundings – views from my window and front door, sequences shot in my garden.

But this wasn’t just about me illustrating pieces that other people had written. It was more about using those audio submissions as a starting point for something new – an act of translation, if you will, which is something that I’ve been interested in for a long time, both in terms of language and creative medium.

The central idea was to explore how we can foster connection in isolation, so this had to be a collaborative process where different perspectives and points of view intertwine. At the beginning of all of the films, and sometimes at the end, you’ll hear my voice linking them all together.

All four contributors, Emilie Lauren Jones, George Bastow, Nihal, and Philip (whose video comes with a trigger warning) help us, I believe, to question when, where and how to find joy in a world that can be intense, overwhelming, painful, oppressive. It can be thanks to friends, families, everyday interactions, yearly celebrations, going for a walk, activism, creativity, making and revisiting memories… There is just so much in what they say. I keep listening to their words over and over again.

This was a completely new way of working for me, and that’s one of the things that has excited me most about this project. I’m so grateful that receiving the micro-commission enabled me to try out something different. It was the first time that I’d ever made a project based primarily on film, which was really useful to me because film is a medium that I’ve continued to work in since.

I also really liked the fact that with these micro-commissions, we were allowed to take some time to explore different ideas and allow them to develop organically. I thought that was brilliant because so often when you apply for things like this, you have to go in with a very clear idea of what you want the finished product to be. Which in turn does dictate the kind of collaboration you are hoping for.

If I’d gone into this project that way, it would have resulted in something totally different from what I’ve produced, because it would have required me to impose my own ideas of what joy looks like from the start, instead of finding a way of representing and paying close attention to the ideas that other people shared with me.

TRIGGER WARNING: The video below includes references to mental health, grief and suicidal thoughts

If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, support is always available. Whatever you're going through, you can call Samaritans free any time, from any phone, on 116 123. Find out more on the Samaritans website.

VIDEO ALT TEXT

Below you can read alt text describing the four videos embedded in the blog post above if you are unable to watch or listen to the films.

FILM 1: A BOTTLE FULL OF HAPPINESS

The opening and end credits are a close-up, filmed from above, of a dark wooden surface on which small letters made of wood are moved about by a white woman’s hands. These letters write up the following text: ‘Joyful journeys, a film by Lou Sarabadzic, featuring ‘A bottle full of happiness’ by Emilie Lauren Jones, a film funded by Coventry City of Culture Trust and Unlimited’.

The film itself shows different sequences, which either fade into the next one, are juxtaposed or overlayed. Scenes depicted are, in this order: an entrance door being open by someone going outside; sea waves ; poet Emilie Lauren Jones, a white woman with blond and red hair, writing up the word ‘happiness’ on a bathroom mirror with red lipstick before applying it to her lips; ducks gathered around a lake; city lights and a tree reflected in water; blurred people shopping in a city centre; silver glitters. The final sequence shows a shiny purple envelope being posted through the mail slit of the entrance door we saw at the beginning, still from the same point of view – that is, from inside the house.

The screen goes back to the wooden surface of the opening credits, and a hashtag reads: “#ReformTheNorm”, followed by two Twitter handles: @coventry2021 and @weareunltd. A hand is extended on the screen to reveal that it is holding letters spelling ‘Thank you’ in its palm, before being closed again and taken away from the screen.

FILM 2: JOY LIES WITHIN

The opening and end credits are a close-up, filmed from above, of a dark wooden surface on which small letters made of wood are moved about by a white woman’s hands. These letters write up the following text: ‘Joyful journeys, a film by Lou Sarabadzic, featuring ‘Joy lies within’ by George Bastow, a film funded by Coventry City of Culture Trust and Unlimited’.

The film opens with the image of a light grey, shut blackout roller blind, framed by daylight. The next sequence is outdoors, with snow falling down a wooden fence, then a metal plant basket filled with snow slowly moving in the wind. Then comes a slightly cloudy end-of-afternoon sky, filmed from inside a room as we can still see part of the window. Fragments of a face are superposed on the sky’s shot. Next, on a snowy surface, human shadows show an arm being extended, a hand trying to capture snowflakes. There is a close-up of grass on a sunny spring-like day, then of a bush covered in snow. The camera then moves on to nighttime, filming an external light bulb, from what is revealed to be a decorative string of light. The next sequence focuses on a kitchen worktop, where boiled water is poured into a cast iron teapot. The film ends with a close-up of a plant pot on a windowsill, appearing completely dark against the sun setting behind a tree, on a snowy horizon.

The screen goes back to the wooden surface of the opening credits, and a hashtag reads: “#ReformTheNorm”, followed by two Twitter handles: @coventry2021 and @weareunltd. On the wooden surface are then displayed the words ‘Thank you’, which two hands coming from the top point to.

FILM 3: MY LIFE, A JOYFUL JOURNEY

The opening and end credits are a close-up, filmed from above, of a dark wooden surface on which small letters made of wood are moved about by a white woman’s hands. These letters write up the following text: ‘Joyful journeys, a film by Lou Sarabadzic, featuring ‘My life, A Joyful Journey’ by Nihal, a film funded by Coventry City of Culture Trust and Unlimited’.

The morning sun is reflected on a garden shed’s frozen wood and glass double door. A closer sequence of the same door and glass panels reveals condensation and drops of water running down, as the thin layer of ice is slowly melting thanks to daylight temperatures. Silver glitters are superimposed on the image. The film then moves on to an afternoon sky scene, where very fast-moving, stretched clouds create large stripes on a blue background, going from right to left of the screen. The top of trees also indicates there is wind pushing these clouds along. A bird flies across before the camera, from left to right. We then see the dark wooden surface we have seen at the beginning of the film, in the opening credits, this time with small wooden letters forming a circle pile in the middle of the screen. Stop motion is used to create different shots of these letters, spread apart from the circle, then reunited as a close circle again. The screen fades to black.

It then goes back to the wooden surface, and a hashtag reads: “#ReformTheNorm”, followed by two Twitter handles: @coventry2021 and @weareunltd. The words ‘thank you’ appears, in stop motion, in a variety of ways, again composed of the same wooden letters used so far.

FILM 4: MUD RIVER

A trigger warning appears on the screen, in white letters over a black background: ‘This film includes references to mental health, grief and suicidal thoughts’.

The opening and end credits are a close-up, filmed from above, of a dark wooden surface on which small letters made of wood are moved about by a white woman’s hands. These letters write up the following text: ‘Joyful journeys, a film by Lou Sarabadzic, featuring ‘Mud River’ by Philip, a film funded by Coventry City of Culture Trust and Unlimited’.

The film opens on a garden pathway where both the pathway and the surrounding grass are covered in snow. Blades of grass are moving gently with the wind. The next sequence shows footprints on pavement, and the main part of the road having been cleared of snow by cars driving by. A new shot shows garden furniture; a black protective cover laid over a table and chairs have gathered much water. Focus on a garden fence with two holes, the darkness of the wood allowing us to see it is currently snowing slightly. In the next close-up of a driveway made of bricks, someone wearing black boots enter the screen – a transparency effect shows these boots gradually blocking out the sight of the bricks. Next, yellow and green bunting moves with the snow and wind on the garden fence we’ve already seen. Close up of a white metal daybed’s corner, casting shadow on a grey wall behind, a lime green curtain hanging on the right. Change to a sky scene, with just a rooftop and electric lines, and the same pavement and road bit we have witnessed earlier, this time with post-rain water instead of snow. Overlaid is the shot of a plantpot on a windowsill. The last scene is an entrance door seen from the inside of the house. Someone with long hair and a green coat enters the house and gets a shiny purple envelope from the floor.

The screen goes back to the wooden surface of the opening credits, and a hashtag reads: “#ReformTheNorm”, followed by two Twitter handles: @coventry2021 and @weareunltd. Two hands, the same ones as in the open credit, on each side of the screen, spell out the word ‘Thank you’ with the same wooden letters. The word ‘You’ is moved closer to ‘thanks’.