A pile of journals returned to Someguy shows the various art and writing the traveling books endured on their journeys cross the world. Someguy, a San Francisco graphic designer, randomly distributed 1,000 blank journals to see what people would write in them.
In 1998, Gordon McKenzie, in his business book Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, wondered what happens to our creativity as we get older. Why will a room full of kindergarten students all raise their hands when asked if they are artists, but only one or two high school seniors acknowledge their creativity? This is the question posed at the beginning of the documentary “1,000 Journals” by Andrea Kreuzhage.
On June 17, 2000, a graphic designer in San Francisco named Someguy had an idea.
Inspired by bathroom graffiti, he launched an experiment creating 1,000 blank journals, a
Web site and a random distribution system to see what people would draw on the blank
pages, what they would express or share given the opportunity.
Would they pass them along? Would they take the journal on a journey? Would they ever return to him? There was no rhyme or reason, no plan. For nearly two years, Someguy distributed 1,000 journals, each numbered, some sent to those who signed up on the Web site and others randomly placed in parks, bathrooms and phone booths.
By 2003, there had been journal sightings in all 50 states and 35 countries, and 2,218 scanned pages had been uploaded to the Web site. In September 2003, Hollie Rose from Middleton, Conn., returned the first journal to Someguy. This film documents the return of that first journal and the search for the other 999.
Through meticulous research, Kreuzhage tracked down 90 of the 1,000 journals and went around the world to tell their stories and the tales of the diarists involved. She uncovers and shares intimate truths, collaborations gone awry and the power of creativity to hurt, to harm and to change lives.
Brief explorations of Someguy’s process of turning the journal experiment into a book published by Chronicle and the initial dialogue with curators at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art seem misplaced in the film. They are diversions unresolved: The viewer doesn’t learn whether the book was published or the exhibition scheduled.
The most powerful and poignant elements involve the serendipitous interaction with the journal entries of Simon Holding from Sydney, Australia, who discovers his entries have been altered and, in fact, his wife’s entry completely covered up.
There also is a powerful interaction between Nick Kelly from England, Heidi Turner from Pennsylvania and Wendy Cook from New York. Kelly imagined what was going on with the people on the e-mail list waiting for Journal No. 876. He made fantastical drawings and cartoons, some lewd and crude, others poignant and hopeful. Cook is touched by what Kelly creates for her while Turner confesses that the risk involved in participating in the project had wounded her deeply.
The film is beautifully made and lovingly begins with its own creative and artistic title sequence by Linda Zacks and Grant Dillion. The musical score by Stuart Balcomb is fitting, never distracting and complements the interviews and images of the journals.
But the film seems to have no end and, in fact, cannot because the project itself is an ongoing collaborative experiment. Sixteen journals have returned and are exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art through April 5.
Kreuzhage never answers the question posed in the beginning. Perhaps she cannot.
“What happens to us growing up? We begin to fear criticism, and tend to keep our creativity to ourselves,” Someguy writes on the Web site http://www.1000journals.com. “Many people keep journals, of writing or sketching, but not many share them with people. (When was the last time a friend invited you to read their diary?) You will not be judged here. And you will have company. This is for you. For everyone.”
The real story here is that people are judged, there is anger and frustration, impatience, laziness, the desire to horde something creative and original, things get lost, are not treasured. This film is not a call to action; it is, instead, a curiosity that leaves the viewer hoping to find one of those journals. Wanting to believe in the ideal, yet realizing that the experiment will not end as desired.