Ruminations on Bruce Baillie’s Here I Am
Ken Paul Rosenthal © 2016
I first encountered Bruce Baille’s short film, Here I Am, in 1988 at the San Francisco Art Institute—or did this lyrical and sensitively composed portrait of developmentally disabled children at the East Bay Activity Center encounter me? Light years before I found my voice as an artist-advocate making poetic, mental health-themed documentaries, Here I Am portrayed individuals who existed outside our societal paradigm of normalcy with an unobtrusive, compassionate and caressing gaze. Framed by another artist, the children may have appeared detached and laconic. Through Baille’s eyes, we see them as curious and deeply engaged. Bookended with a peaceful, tracking shot that glides through the fog-drenched Oakland hills, Baille tenderly evokes the children’s inner worlds by juxtaposing extended close-ups of their faces with images of them at play, moving swing set chains, birds in flight, alternately playful and violent screaming, intermittent cello phrases and hurdy-gurdy music. Beguiled by the quietude at the heart of all these elements and entranced by the relaxed pacing of his edits, I intuited that one day I might produce work that exuded such mysterious grace and humility. Here I Am taught me that cinema could be a deeply felt, contemplative experience that reveals the authentic face behind the face, be it of the characters in our films, or our own higher nature as makers.