What You (Can’t) Say

Director Brielle Brilliant on the very particular backstory of their new film Firstness, and what that word means to them.

My dad had this good friend, years and years ago, who lived in New Mexico and taught him to drive stick. They’d go to the sand and drive around, switch gears, practicing stall, unstall. Then they’d slam their cans and eat beans and my dad would talk about moving there — get into clay or horse shit or something. And I don’t know this friend’s name or gender, if they still have a body or now are just story/air, but when I was little, I’d see this person, in my mind, sometimes. And I’d see them sitting on the sand, cheering my dad as he stalled and unstalled, picking their nose or something, maybe drinking a beer, talking to ants — I dunno exactly, but this friend was always there, and like, smiling at me…

So that was my First of New Mexico. That experience of seeing. First time you’ve been here? Someone asks. This your first feature? First real relationship? We frame the experience in an order. First, last, 19th, 79th — we measure. We track, we organize. It’s human, it’s language, it’s economy. But the actual first, the actual first lives somewhere else, outside of these measurements. Outside of these identifiers. ’Cause when we’re in an actual first, we have no language for it (yet) — we have no reference.

The first time I fed a chicken was three months before filming Firstness. I don’t remember it. But Lisa said I could live at the house as long as I fed the chickens, so I fed them. Every day, twice a day. It became my favorite thing to do. I’d wake up and talk to them, bike around. An actor would land and I’d say, Come over. Meet the chickens. Have some chips. They’re wonderful. No, this is not my house, no these are not my chickens, but I live here now. I don’t remember the first time. I made a movie. Fed a chicken. Saw a fly. But it doesn’t really matter, because every time is a first, if you’re paying attention. I know that. I offer that.

There are 45,735,794,358,345+ things I don’t know. Pick something, and I probably don’t know it. I don’t know faucets, I don’t know timelines, I don’t know my gender this Saturday, I don’t know who killed jdfgjge at 12lq;;/2 time, what the fuck the “internet” is, why it feels warmer to sleep naked in a bag, the etymology of Rock, and I definitely don’t know what it’s like to be you. But it doesn’t matter. ’Cause I try to be in the Firstness of it. Meet someone, watch something, listen — I try to be in the first. ’Cause that experience, of one thing pressing on another thing — it gives me stuff. Gifts, poisons, feelings, thoughts. Like, I’m laughing now. I’m turned on now. Wishing. And that experience — what I’ll call the “right nows of sight” — is really fucking clear to me, yet kinda impossible to talk about. Kinda embarrassing — to attempt this impossible. ’Cause you risk sounding like an idiot or an alien or just really, really high. Like, if you’re trying to explain some First you had with a garbage truck, and you tell your friend, “I looked out my window and saw this thing on wheels that was glowing orange and two men were throwing these huge bags into it and it made this loud fucking sound and then one guy hopped on and rode off and it was just beautiful,” your friend might be like, “…I think that was a garbage truck,’ and then they might wonder what the fuck is wrong with you that you don’t know the name of a garbage truck or why it is glowing in your window, but the truth is that’s it not actually really a garbage truck (this is a personal example) — cause it wasn’t at first. In the initial right now of the sight. So talking “about” what that First experience gave you often falls short, or over-dramatizes, or is just inaccurate to your actual First. ’Cause when we’re in an actual first, we have no language for it — we have no reference.

This kinda impossible, kinda embarrassing, mostly absurd and often beautiful/scary First sort of knowledge is what a 19th- or 20th-century someone might call “an unmentionable.” “Baby’s paradox.” “The river you can’t step into twice.” Corny — accurate. But maybe I lost you. Maybe you’ve just been imagining what I look like. If I’m a girl, if I’m beautiful, wear long coats, hot. (Would we get high, maybe?) A she, a they, a what. Trust yourself not to figure it out. Try that. So it’s these firsts, these seeming unmentionables, that I wanted to see a movie of. Make a movie of. Be a movie of. Some Firstness.

The above photographs were taken by Alexa Viscius on the Firstness set.

Brielle Brilliant (they/them) makes films, books, and prank calls about (mis)communication, liberation, and the multiplicity of identity. They are the writer-director of the feature film Firstness, which can be streamed at the Portland International Film Festival, from March 5 to March 14, 2021. Brielle is also the author of The Spud re-run novel, the writer of The Curtsy Family, the director of Streakers, the voice behind prank-calling project Calls/Deliveries, and the artist of Illocutionary Hay. They have a degree in philosophy and they dance. Brielle has also worked as a youth counselor, writer, teacher, and bookseller, and has a couple other names, like Pavli. Their work can be found at briellebrilliant.com.