Photos: ©Argo Films
Respecting Life is Real Yoga
I love getting to know an individual (be it human, elephant, or frog).
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST SUSAN BLOOD
There are people it’s best to meet and love first, and discover their achievements later. Otherwise, you might never gather the courage to talk to them at all, which would be a shame and a waste. Allison Argo is one of those people.
Allison is a documentary filmmaker with six Emmys to her credit. Per her website: “Our documentaries endeavor to lend a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. It is our mission to inspire understanding and compassion through the medium of film.”
Allison is currently working on The Story of Dao, a theatrical film based on the life of an elephant she met while filming The Urban Elephant in Bangkok.
Susan Blood I’m curious about how you chose your projects. What kinds of things are you drawn to? How did you get started?
Allison Argo There’s no question that my work is fueled by passion. I’ve always been turned inside out by stories about underdogs. I was raised in the theater, and the underdogs of my childhood were Tennessee Williams characters. I would sit in the balcony and sob.
A catalyst for change
Allison Argo (continuing) But a few years down the line something happened. I don’t know exactly when, but I began to notice other species.
When I met a gorilla named Ivan living in a shoddy shopping mall in Tacoma, WA, I felt I had met the ultimate underdog. Here was a huge, handsome, intelligent, strong individual who had spent the last 30 years of his life in solitary confinement, without a ray of sunshine or a blade of grass. It was unconscionable.
Ivan launched my documentary career. There was no turning back. It took me 3 years to make my first film (The Urban Gorilla) since I didn’t know a thing about making films (except what I’d gleaned from acting). But it was a great way to learn.
AND after the film was broadcast, Ivan was liberated! The mall went bankrupt and Ivan was moved to Atlanta where he joined other gorillas. Of course my film was only a catalyst, but how magical to witness positive change!
20+ years later, I’m still pretty much the same. I still get torn up by stories of underdogs – and I still think the most under of all dogs are the non-human variety. They have no voice that we can understand, they have no rights, and in most cases, they’re being squeezed out of existence by our rather careless and fecund human race.
I focus on the individual I want to help
Susan B What is your relationship with PBS and Nature?
Allison I’m a freelance filmmaker and have been incredibly lucky to have worked with the Nature team. We’ve made six films together, and they’ve become like family. They offer me support but also artistic and journalistic freedom.
Unfortunately times have changed very suddenly. Their budgets (which were never lavish) have shrunk to almost nothing. Times are definitely tough.
Susan B Do you ever get disheartened and if so, how do you combat it?
Allison When I get disheartened (and lately it’s easy to feel that way), I try to focus on the individual or species that I want to help. That helps me remember that it’s not about me. I am only the conduit, the messenger. So I visualize myself as a foot soldier and I do what any good worker ant does: I soldier on.
If you’ve ever messed with a line of leaf cutter ants, you know that they never give up. If you put a stick in their path or they hit a puddle, they always find a way around it…
That’s how I’ve wound up on Kickstarter.com. I’m on a mission to raise awareness about Asian elephants and share The Story of Dao – and I’ve encountered a few puddles. So I’m forging a new trail.
I’m on a tremendous learning curve, but that’s what keeps us young, right? : )
Make friends with what you’ve got
Susan B What is your favorite part of what you do?
Allison I love personal interaction. I love getting to know an individual (be it human, elephant, or frog).
I love that process, the gaining of trust, the exchange of intimacy. I’m still friends with individuals from my very first film. I have to admit that I don’t enjoy the constant fires that seem to ignite in the field and the 18 hour days back-to-back-to-back. I do love crawling back to the edit room when the shooting is done.
You come back from the field and you sit down to make friends with what you’ve managed to shoot. A lot of it falls short of your expectations – but some it surpasses what you thought you’d get. Whatever it is, that’s all you have to work with. To me, this is the most creative part of the process. Finding a way to tell the story with the pieces you’ve got.
It’s like scrabble – sometimes you have too many vowels and other times, you don’t have enough. But you’ve got to find the magic in it. I do love the challenge of the edit.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.