You Are Not I

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Sara Driver’s career in film has been as prolific as it is unheralded in public and commercial discourse. Driver, who has written and directed a number of her own films, is likely best known as Jim Jarmusch’s partner and key collaborator. And while she deserves plenty of accolades for her work with Jarmusch the fact that her own films continue to languish in relative obscurity is a general disservice to her and other women working in film.

When i acquired a copy of Driver X4: The Lost and Found Films of Sara Driver I made that remarkable discovery that is her work. I instantly adored her masterpiece Sleepwalk (1986) and fell in love with Joe Strummer all over again with her candid non-fiction piece on the musician. Driver’s world is a highly personal one of imaginative dream spaces and identity fusions that mirror the fluidity of her treatment of genres. But as much as I was profoundly moved by these discoveries, the film I always screened my students was Driver’s college thesis adaptation of a work by novelist Paul Bowles You Are Not I (1981).

The short runtime You Are Not I and its availability on the internet were obvious points in the film’s favor as a teaching instrument. However, as an exemplar of the possibilities of student film production You Are Not I is inspiring. Not to mention that Driver, as a woman filmmaker, imbued many of my students with the feeling that they, be they women, non-binary, or People of Color, could make it in a field that continues to be dominated by white men.

My students, in their papers, would analyze the central metaphor of a woman’s identity in flux. It’s a duality one sees in Bergman’s Persona (1966) and Buñuel’s That Obscure Object Of Desire (1977). But Driver, as I always point out, discards the commodification of the female in these films to focus on the fludity of movement that women in fiction possess to drift from domestic spheres to those of institutionalized incarceration. This observation always sparked enthusiastic conversation amongst the students as they then dissected how this is conveyed cinematographically.

Visually, what has always stunned me and often impressed my students is Driver’s maturity as a filmmaker at such an early stage of stylistic development. The use of smoke at the site of the accident creates this eerie space that combines the raw horror of Carnival Of Souls (1962) with the unflinchingly critical gaze of the pile-up in Weekend (1967). From these comparisons alone one should be able to grasp just how impressive You Are Not I is as a work of poetic cinema.

These days, whenever I revisit my Driver X4: The Lost and Found Films of Sara Driver DVD set I can’t help but feel a nostalgia for my days as a teacher. Based on exit surveys my students completed You Are Not I was often singled out as the most inspiring film that I screened. And it is for that reason that I encourage anyone with a desire to make films to watch You Are Not I. The cult of Sara Driver needs to grow.