Tim Guthrie’s “Missing Piece”

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December 21st, 2017

Photo courtesy of Tim Guthrie

Omaha, NE—Tim Guthrie is an award winning local artist, filmmaker and Professor at Creighton University. His work has been shown at numerous film festivals, and galleries all over the world. In Omaha, Guthrie’s films and installations have shown at The Bemis Center, Kaneko and Fontanelle forest, but his screening at Film Streams last month was more somber.

Guthrie’s wife of 21 years, Beth, passed away two years ago. A journey across the globe to scatter her ashes led unexpectedly to a series of photos, an inspirational blog and eventually the film, Missing Piece.

“What happened was it started off as this series of photos I was taking,” Guthrie said. “Actually, I was spreading her ashes, and in the process of doing that, I was returning to places that were significant to us. And then as I was doing that I started realizing how I can take photos of the photos, because I’m using those photographs—the original photos of the two of us—to help find the location. Since I had the photos, I started taking photographs of the photographs held up in front of the scene.”

“I was keeping a blog at the time because my parents who don’t like Facebook, understandably—I understand when people hate Facebook—they want to follow my travels, but they didn’t want to use social media so I created a blog and they could just go to it and read about stuff, which sort of started as something personal. It became much bigger, and then eventually, as I was taking photos, I started shooting video, and eventually a film came out of all of that.”

What began as a therapeutic venture turned into something that Guthrie never imagined, or wanted.

“People were telling me this is really helping them out, so the more people contacted me telling me that me sharing my experiences somehow was helping them get through their experiences, because obviously what I’m going through is not all that unique. Everybody suffers loss of some kind. Maybe not quite the same way, obviously. It’s all unique. At the same time, it’s both unique and universal. It’s kind of an odd thing to deal with, but the more I heard it was helping people, the more it encouraged me to take it a little further and a little further and to keep it going longer than I originally planned.”

His blog captivated a mass audience, including attention from celebrities.

“I don’t know if I could say there was any thought behind any of it. I was kind of a disaster for a while. The blog started as a simple way to let my parents and friends see what I was doing and where it was going, and then that grew and became something bigger because other people started following it. It was getting out there where other people were interested, but that’s not what it was intended to do. It was just a way for me to try to help process what I was going through. I was trying to cement those memories in my mind by going back to the places, and then I was just taking the photos at the time. And then everybody started calling it art and I was saying that it’s not really art; it’s just this thing that I’m doing.”

A 25 minute cut of the Missing Piece attracted attention from audiences and filmmakers, and a full length version was produced that was only ever shown at Film Streams for two screenings, a sold-out opening and encore. At the time of the interview, Guthrie was unsure of whether or not he would submit the full version to festivals, but either way he does not regret the work.

“I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I went through this. I’m glad I saw it to the end. I’m glad I went as far as I did. Every time I started to realize how much money I was spending—I was being very reckless and irresponsible—I got nervous thinking, why am I spending so much money on travel? But I did immediately stop myself from thinking that way, because when I was doing it, I didn’t care, and the experiences were more important to me than anything else. And the money was gone. I’m not going to be thinking about that a year or two from now, but I always have those experiences, so I’m glad I did all this. I’m glad I took the photos. I’m definitely glad the ashes were the most important thing, even though I don’t talk about it much and even though the film doesn’t show a lot of it. That by far was the most important thing that I was doing. And then the fact that there’s a film is nice in a way. It keeps being classified as a documentary when it’s at film festivals, which I understand, but I just think of it as a love letter to her, and when I remind myself that that’s what it is, I’m glad that I’ve put as much into it as I have.”

CH: I know there’s never a total resolution after something like this but is there a sense of some resolution after having this piece completed?

TG: Probably semantics—I don’t know if I’d use the word “resolution.”

CH: Is there a better word?

TG: There probably is, and I’m probably not going to come up with it. But a resolution would, to me, indicate that I’ve gotten to the end of something, and I have the feeling I’m never going to get to the end of this—that I want to be carrying this for the rest of my life. I think the film I’m pretty much done doing stuff with. I might try to resolve this longer cut in a better way. The blog is coming to a close in the next month or two. I know I’m going to end that at the end of the year, so I’m going to try to move forward. But there’s no moving on, you know what I mean?  I don’t leave something behind. I don’t put something in a treasure chest and think, ‘OK I’m done with that.’ There are people that are like that like to brag that they’re very private and they can compartmentalize things and stuff like that, and I’m not like that. I know I’ve been carrying it for a long time, and I’m going to carry it, I think, for the rest of my life. It’s just learning to carry it better and learning to operate in this new environment I’m in.”

Guthrie will give a talk on creativity and anxiety at Joslyn Art Museum next month, Jan. 12 as part of Creative Mornings, a lecture series celebrating a city’s creative talent. Next summer, Guthrie will be curating The Museum of Alternative History at Kaneko.

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