Tanya Davis wrote the poem “How to Be Alone” in 2010, back when solitude was seen as something of a fallen state by a society that thrives on social gatherings and measures people’s worth by their relationship status. The poem and its accompanying video were a paean to the pleasures of being alone—alone in crowds, alone in nature, alone wherever you want to be.
Solitude took on a very different context in 2020. Rather than being seen as a refuge for outcasts, isolation became a default state for essentially everyone who didn’t already live with a partner, roommate, or family. This pandemic-induced state is very different in character from the kind of alone Davis wrote on a decade ago. Fortunately for all of us, the National Film Board of Canada commissioned her to update it for our COVID-infected times, partnering once again with filmmaker and animator Andrea Dorfman for the video.
Like its predecessor, How to Be At Home is a work of radical empathy. It doesn’t sugar-coat the hardship of loneliness or the mental toll of living in a situation of extreme, almost unprecedented ambiguity. As honest as it is, though, there isn’t so much as a syllable in it that sounds defeated. Tired? Yes. Uncertain? Absolutely. But also hopeful, resilient, and full of strength.
The poem has changed for the times, and the video has, too. The original was a journey through the places one can go while still being alone. The new one didn’t have the luxury of inhabiting those spaces. Instead, Dorfman draws her animation on the pages of a book, one of the escapes that took on increased importance, especially in the early days of the pandemic. Here, the book is a source of comfort, beauty, and wisdom, and Dorfman puts it to an ingenious range of uses in the course of the film.
How to Be at Home is heartfelt and utterly sincere, an unselfconscious offering of a sort that takes courage and confidence to release into the world. And even though the pandemic is maybe, possibly, hopefully on its way out, Davis and Dorfman’s film seems likely to resonate long beyond the confines of this particular crisis. The world is hard, and complicated. There will always be a place for words of reassurance.
How to Be at Home (2020)
dir: Andrea Dorfman
syn: In 2010, the poet, musician and my dear friend, Tanya Davis, wrote the beautiful poem, How to Be Alone, and from this we collaborated to make the film which you can see here: vimeo.com/3850863
Ten years later, Tanya has written the gorgeous and poignant poem for these times, How to Be at Home, and we found ourselves collaborating again! This animation was created in my home studio in Halifax, Nova Scotia, while in social isolation through the spring and summer of 2020.
How to Be at Home is one of thirty films created through, The Curve, a National Film Board of Canada series of films created within and about our pandemical times. You can see more of these wonderful and affecting films if you visit this link nfb.ca/the-curve/lights-camera-pivot/