Synopsis: An honest self-portrait: Lessons on Life and Death is an abstract unraveling of disturbed feelings via a ‘scrapbook’ that may contain memories, sentiments, dreams, ideology, and thought patterns, or some of those things, or none of those things.
I was a third-semester undergrad film student at the time of making “Lessons”, which was to be the final for my experimental media production class. I had been concurrently taking another highly intense course, analog filmmaking, for which I’d worked myself to the bone in order to direct what was, at the time, my most substantial project ever– Living Swamp, Queens World Film Festival Official Selection 2021. Whilst I had poured so much time and creative labour into Living Swamp, I left myself with only 48 hours or so to start and finish my experimental production final. My whole identity was being a film student, and the personal and creative stresses of possibly not being able to deliver a worthy project for experimental became an immense strain.
So I didn’t sleep until “Lessons” was born.
In a marathon of sleep-deprived, desperation-fueled creativity, I conceived a scrapbook frame narrative that would allow for a self-mosaic of sorts composed of my rapidly-produced new footage and archival material from my past shorts. The piece became a thing of personal agony. I surely needed to “deliver” something “experimental” as was expected from a dedicated student.
I was thrilled, horrified, and disgusted by the resulting short film. It earned me an A in class.
That period was one of the most creatively productive I’ve ever had as a filmmaker. I’d been pushed to create meaningful works for my many classes.
After completing and screening “Lessons” and my other final projects, my mental health declined significantly. It is with no romanticism that I feel this short film to be a product of sickness.
I didn’t know quite what to do with it for a long time. I’d never been so nervous about publicly sharing a creative work of mine– it just felt too personally repulsing. But, “Lessons” lingered in my creative heart of hearts like a bad dream. I became curious to see if anyone thought it’d be worth showing again.
Evidently, someone did.
“Lessons on Life and Death” now sees the light of day for the first time since its university classroom screening in December 2019.
Lionel R Jeffries is a writer and filmmaker from Connecticut whose creative interests include history, introspection, the supernatural, and the strange. Born to an American mother and English father, he deeply values both his regional identity as a New Englander and his European ancestry.