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An Ordinary Life
An Ordinary Life
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Dot Fisher-Smith was born in 1928 in Memphis, Tennessee and spent her childhood in the south. Her childhood vow: "I won't be like them when I grow up." And as she grew up, left for New York and then abroad, returned to California and became an anti-war and then environmental activist, the life she created wasn't like anybody's. At the core of her being is a Zen Buddhist presence, which pervades her art as well as her actions.

Yet this description doesn't begin to capture the essence of Dot. The 82-year-old Dot we see in this documentary has at least twice the energy of the filmmakers, who are decades younger. She laughs off the difficulties of going to jail for a cause, dances with abandon, bicycles around her hometown of Ashland, Oregon, and creates artwork with the depth of nature. She is frank about her attitude toward death, and during the course of the film she confronts the reality of those beliefs when her son becomes gravely ill.

Dot's life illuminates our shared American history: the segregated South, draft protests and LSD in the late 60s, the pull between liberating oneself and being a 'good mother,' the back-to-the-land movement, finding a spiritual path. Dot's husband John says, "Dot and I will never see something the same way. But somehow or other the conflict is creative." The hilarious story they tell of falling in love in San Francisco's early 70s is soaked in the essence of the times.

dancing
canvas

Photo by Pam Lott

In creating her art, Dot uses canvas salvaged from the meditation yurt she and John had on their land, canvas marked by lichen and streaks from the rain. The film provides a lyrical close-up of her creative process and its relationship with nature. "It's all about allowing myself to be flowing with what my eyes see and what my body is telling me. I just ruin it if I try to control it," she says. "My art is moving Zen." Dot's canvases are meditations on mountains, inner and outer, infinitesimal and gigantic.

studio

Hundreds of people feel connected with Dot. "I've always thought that by the time she's 80 she's going to be completely enlightened," says a member of Dot's women's group. "She's just going to float off the face of the earth. But no, she just keeps getting more real." Dot makes mistakes, yet her life is a message about how to live: with love and outrageous action, being true to one's conscience, being present in each moment.

This 27-minute documentary delicately weaves a lifetime of threads into a moving whole. Against a backdrop of archival footage, journal pages, and stories told by family and friends, Dot narrates her own life. She opens herself during difficult times and offers us her heart, mind and soul. Director and editor Patricia Somers has constructed, not a conventional biography, but an intimate, inspiring, and ultimately heart-rending portrait of this life.

Slow Moving Pictures presents An Ordinary Life

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2011

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