Making a film about creativity, he found himself wrestling an enigma

smh– What’s the common thread between a glass-working artist, a celebrated chef, a singer songwriter and an entrepreneur who works with NGOs?

It’s creativity. But what, exactly, is that?

“It’s a bit of an enigma, even though it’s been such a big part of my life,” says documentary filmmaker Roger Ungers. “So I thought, wouldn’t it be great to hear other people’s perspectives on where their creativity comes from, how they harness it in their lives.

“We all have a very different way that we approach creativity, or discover it. I wanted to break it apart and learn about it from other perspectives.”

The result is the documentary Finding Creativity, showing at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival this month – it was originally due for a live screening, now it’s online.

Ungers says he decided early on in the project that he didn’t want to take the cliched line of talking to traditional “creatives”, a painter, for example. He wanted to cast a wider net.

He found Holly Grace, the glass artist, via American Netflix reality TV show Blown Away, which pits glassblowers against each other competing for a cash prize. He realised it would be both visually stunning, and a door into a very physical, tactile form of creation.

Chef Coskun Uysal, in contrast, drew from a rich, ingrained tradition of Turkish food that came from his mother.

As Ungers pulled the stories together and wove them into the documentary, he sought practical ways to summon creativity – even if we can’t quite say where we are summoning it from.

One researcher suggested approaching “creativity as problem solving”, he says: exploring the myriad paths towards a known goal.

He wanted, too, to somehow show the “existential part” of creativity, the bit that can’t be explained in words. So he added to his filmic mix ambient footage of picturesque landscapes and time-lapse scenes, to represent the spark of inspiration that can strike out of the blue.

“When you’re out there, say, looking over the ocean, suddenly you get ideas,” Ungers says. “Your mind is free, it’s clear. I wanted the audience [of the documentary] to be immersed in nature in that way, so they can think creatively… draw their own ideas, have the textures or colours evoke something in them.

Much of the documentary was done before COVID-19 hit but filming of his last subject, social entrepreneur Jan Owen, was delayed for a long time as lockdowns descended.

Ungers says it forced him into creative problem solving: how to use the resources he had, to make the film he wanted to see.

“When you’re dealing with a lockdown, all the emotions that go with it, it did put a damper on my own creativity,” he says.

“I had those moments where I would sit down and go ‘today is not a good day’ because I knew the work wouldn’t be good.

“But we got through it. If you try and force creativity it usually doesn’t come. It usually comes at the moment you least expect it … it really is an enigma and it is very hard to explain but I hope in the documentary people get a good sense of it.”

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