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P. Michael Bourgoin saved my life when I was 15.

P. Michael Bourgoin

P. Michael Bourgoin

I got the word last Wednesday that he was gone. I was shooting a committee hearing at the State House. I was in the well, on the floor in front of the horseshoe-shaped arc of lawmakers’ desks. It came up on my iPhone. I wanted to cry, to get out of there, to scream in the parking lot, but there was no way out. I had to stay until the committee went into recess a few hours later.

I continued to shoot pictures of the droning figures, pointing to maps. I wrote down their names. I did my best, but my thoughts escaped me, into the past, back to the summer he saved my life.

When I hit high school, I didn’t have much going for me, just barely passing grades, long hair, a collection of black concert t-shirts and the vague feeling I was headed down a life path laid out by people who didn’t know me very well. My family liked racing cars, fixing cars and talking about racing and fixing cars. I wanted nothing to do with that world. It didn’t interest me. I knew I wanted something different, but I didn’t know what. My world view was so small, I didn’t even know what my choices were, or if I had any at all.

By some miracle, I got into Mr. Bourgoin’s filmmaking class. It was one of the few electives unrelated to cars or woodworking. It was rare that a freshman would get in, because upperclassmen had dibs. This was the old days. No computers. Not even VHS. We shot Super 8 and, later, Betamax. I learned to write storyboards. I learned to run the camera and how to splice film together. More importantly, I got a glimpse into a world where silliness and creativity were encouraged. It was a space (a slightly grungy classroom, divided in two, by a beige accordion curtain) where you could take a risk without being ridiculed. You could make your own world.

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15 Feb 2011