“Film? Why are you studying film?” “How interesting. And how do you plan on using that degree?” “Whoa, how cool! But do you actually want to work in that field?” “Is Notre Dame even good for that type of study?”
These are questions I receive when I tell people I study Film, and after hearing them so frequently, sometimes I doubt myself and wonder why I don’t study something more practical like engineering or business. But this thought only lasts a few seconds before I remember why I do what I do.
I grew up in a house where singing and dancing to my parents’ 80s records was a Saturday-afternoon norm, joining my dad in guitar and song post-dinner was only natural, sketching alongside my mom while sipping coffee was fun, and watching films of different genres and languages was the usual nighttime activity. My parents fostered my and my siblings’ interests in drawing, sports, music, reading, and theatre by encouraging us to express them in unique ways. Somehow, we each grew to be a perfect combination of our dad and mom.
My dad immigrated here from Mexico with six of his 11 siblings when he was 19. Upon arriving to Chicago, he put his bass, guitar, and singing skills to use at the first church he joined. During the early years of my parents’ marriage, my dad was the lead bass player and vocalist in a band called Jasmine. Although he later left his band to focus on his primary profession, he kept his instruments and practiced every day.
When beginning college, my mom studied art and finance, but she later found her vocation in social work. Despite this switch, she continued to use her artistic and analytical way of thinking when working with under-privileged and special-needs children.
When I was 11, my mom gave me a small journal and told me to document anything I wanted, and I began to do so every day. At the age of 16, I decided to learn how to play one of the six guitars at my house, and my dad enthusiastically agreed to teach me. These two activities fostered my interest in music and literature. I discovered new bands and songs, paid closer attention to the music my older siblings liked, and developed my own ear for music. I read online music blogs and learned to sing and play guitar simultaneously.
In my journal, I wanted to practice writing in various forms. I read scripts of plays and operas, poetry and classic British literature, and I analyzed song lyrics. It was amazing how seamlessly my two passions crossed. The more I fostered my love for playing guitar, the easier and more meaningful I found my writing, and vice versa. I began to combine these two passions by composing my own music and writing my own lyrics.
As I did this more often, I found myself imagining a scene in my head that would go well with my music. It was as if I was writing the song for a particular part of a film or a music video. I found myself doing this for every song I heard, and soon, ordinary moments I witnessed would spark an idea that I could write or sing about.
There was something about music and storytelling that touched me deeply, because it brought people together. Singing Latin music in the chamber choir enabled me to sing for masses in Rome during Holy Week. Through storytelling, my grandma shared her deep, rich stories about life in Mexico. Playing guitar allowed my family to sing together. With my letter-writing I could keep in contact with friends from different countries. Listening, writing, and playing music helped me to learn about other people, myself, and how to appreciate the world and life I was given.
As I grew up, I realized I had more and more passions. When I applied to college and chose a major, I was unsure. How could I choose one thing to study when I liked so many? Unsurprisingly, I began my college career with my major undeclared.
Toward the end of my freshman year, I watched an award-winning documentary made by Notre Dame professor Oliver Morel. In it, he told a deep, moving non-fiction story accompanied by excellent music, visuals, and camera work. That was when I knew I wanted to be part of an industry that could synthesize everything I had a passion for. In that moment, I realized that films could incorporate art, music, sounds, narratives, graphics, and the stories of all sorts of people. Thus, I declared myself as a Film major.
So far Film has been rewarding due to the mixture of theory, philosophy, history, writing, and visual and musical skills I have learned through a film perspective. Movies tell all sorts of stories about all sorts of people, so a filmmaker must understand many disciplines. While many of my friends are theology, philosophy, engineering, and PLS majors, I am able to communicate with them about what they’re learning. Sure, I don’t read amazing books every week or write papers on G. K. Chesterton, but through my work I can still learn about these subjects.
My hope for the future is to direct and produce documentaries. I want to be writing, drawing, playing music, interacting with people, and creating beautiful films for people that I know and for those people that I will never know.
When I’m asked why I study film, I remember that surreal feeling I get as I stand behind my camera and press the record button. I think of my family, my friends, my passions, and simply say, “Because it combines everything I like, gives me the opportunity to dialogue with all sorts of people, and the chance to tell the stories that make up our world.”
Crystal Avila is a junior proudly studying Film and Television. If you need a good movie suggestion or new band to listen to, contact her at email@example.com.