Published October 25, 2022 by Tom Porter

Exploring Shyness through Film

Spencer Wilkins has trouble making friends, and he’s quite up-front about it. “I’d say it’s because I’m shy, and making friends is scary,” he says in the opening lines of his new self-produced movie short.

wilkins filmmaker
Now a bona fide filmmaker: Spencer Wilkins '21

Wilkins, a Bowdoin 2021 graduate currently in the second year of a creative writing MFA at the University of Iowa, decided to address the issue of his social anxiety in a video essay as part of his coursework. “I majored in English at Bowdoin, but I’ve always been passionate about film. In high school I used to make music videos.”

This project, however, was unlike anything Wilkins had done before. “I knew I wanted to write something about loneliness, connection, and friendship.” He decided he would shoot the film entirely in the Mall of America, a hundred-acre retail space near the Twin Cities in Minnesota and the largest shopping mall in the western hemisphere.

“This seemed like a great backdrop for a story about human connections because it’s so densely populated.” Wilkins ended up spending three days in the mall without leaving. “I lived in a hotel within the mall and ended up with about four hours of footage, all shot on my smartphone.” Wilkins did not write the script until after he had gathered the footage because he didn’t want any preconceived ideas about what shots he should get. “What I did was look at every single shot and then write a sentence that would correspond to it. I ended up with about 240 sentences, which I then edited into a thirteen-minute video essay.”

spencer wilkins21 at GCUFF
Wilkins at the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival (GCUFF)

In the essay, titled “Alone a Mall Enough,” Wilkins explores and describes the difficulties he has making friends and tries to explain to himself why this might be, all the while apparently riffing on the moving images shot in the mall. He also takes what for him must have been the brave steps of approaching a few strangers in the mall and asking them for their thoughts about friendship.

Wilkins says the project was somewhat therapeutic and gave him the opportunity to open up about his anxieties. “Presenting this short in front of my professors and classmates gave me more freedom to discuss things I may ordinarily feel bit vulnerable or uncomfortable talking about, and I got some really kind and thoughtful responses.”

“Alone in a Mall Enough” has made waves beyond the classroom, being selected for screenings at two reputable film festivals earlier this year: the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival and the Twin Cities Black Film Festival.

Watch Wilkins’s Video Diary: 

Bowdoin Shoutouts:
Wilkins credits two English faculty members in particular with helping to encourage and nurture his creative writing abilities at Bowdoin: “[Senior Writer-in-Residence] Anthony Walton’s poetry course was fantastic. He changed the way I look at writing. While [Assistant Professor of English] Alex Marzano-Leznevich made me realize that nonfiction is a real genre that I could pursue and encouraged me to bet on myself and go to graduate school.”