1000 Journals, unlike most films about art and artists, has little interest in probing the mysterious process of creation. Beginning in San Francisco and spiraling outward, this globetrotting documentary is rather an investigation into the nature of community in the digital, globalized age.
If that sounds like an impossible topic to get one's arms around in 88 minutes, you'd be right. Wisely, filmmaker Andrea Kreuzhage eschews overarching generalizations, grandiose platitudes and trendy hipness in favor of a handful of thought-provoking kernels. The downside, though, is those flashes of insight may speak more directly to artists than to the rest of us. That niche audience will certainly have more patience for the obsessive and self-indulgent artistes who pop up in the film with some regularity.
1000 Journals, which had its local premiere at the S.F. International Film Festival, was inspired by The 1000 Journals Project. A local graphic artist with the pseudonym Someguy conceived and executed the idea of spreading a thousand blank journals around the world. His intention was that they be passed from hand to hand with people contributing text, drawings, collage, and detritus (to name just the most obvious forms of expression). Someguy created a Web site to display scanned pages from the journals still out in the wild (so to speak); as word spread, the site allowed people who wished to participate in the project to sign up for a book.
Someguy instructed that the completed journals be sent to his San Francisco abode but -- here's the rub -- only one made its way back to him in three years. Kreuzhage, a German expatriate who'd been working in L.A. for the last several years, set out to locate at least a few of the vanished 999.
The beautifully photographed documentary has the air of an existential thriller at the outset, and early on Kreuzhage unearths some unexpected emotional territory. In Toronto, a few contributors acknowledge the heavy responsibility that ascribes to anyone in possession of a journal. A key obligation, they assert, is passing the book on to the next person in a timely fashion. A splash of guilt washes briefly over the film; that guilt is amusingly channeled during the end credits to the reprobates in the viewing audience who are Bogarting a journal.
Another responsibility that some contributors take very seriously and others disdain is leaving previous entries intact. Two cocky girls in Adelaide, Australia, have no compunction about "improving" the chronic bad taste that mars the journal that comes into their possession. Are they merely expressing their own artistic impulses, or stomping on the concept of collaboration and dumping on the idea of community? I wonder if the artists in the crowd will answer differently than the "civilians."
To me, a journal evokes diary, confession and sidewalk philosophy. No doubt because I'm a writer, and not an artist, I'm disappointed that 1000 Journals minimizes text entries in favor of an array of flamboyant artwork culled from the pages of the journals. Movies are a visual medium, of course, so it makes a certain sense. But I find the anonymous confidings of an anonymous individual, alive on the planet at the same instant as I but far, far away, more touching and direct than a lush bricolage.
That said, the film addresses the randomness of The 1000 Journals Project from a couple of different angles, notably through the impact that one person's art has on a subsequent recipient/contributor of the journal. (These cases qualify for adjudication under the Law of Unintended Consequences.) The first time I saw the documentary, I experienced the magic and charm of random acts of journal-ism. But when I revisited the film a second time, some three months later, it felt shallower and more disjointed, with the variety of interviewees and experiences reflecting individual personalities rather than representing entry points to an invisible global community.
And yet, even if 1000 Journals is not as profound as it would like to be, it suggests that the human impulse to imagine -- if not create -- a utopia is still alive.
1000 Journals is now playing at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.