Directed by Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, Town Destroyer examines the contentious debate around Victor Arnautoff’s The Life of Washington. This 13 panel mural decorates the walls of George Washington High School in San Francisco, California. Installed in 1936, the murals tell the story of George Washington and includes images of violence against Native Americans and African Americans. Some see the art as subversive. By painting the scenes, Arnautoff seems to be both telling history and criticizing it. Others find the murals incredibly offensive and believe the art is perpetrating harmful stereotypes and further traumatizing minorities.
This film follows the recent battle among those who believe the mural should remain and others who believe it should be painted over. Many arguments are made and the documentary does an excellent job not taking sides. It’s up for the viewer to draw their own conclusion.
Town Destroyer is a fascinating documentary about the debate between free speech and social justice told through the lens of one controversial piece of art.
This documentary was screened at the 2022 Mill Valley Film Festival.
Directed by Alexandria Jackson, Sophie and the Baron is a sweet documentary about an intergenerational friendship that developed into a unique artistic collaboration. Baron Wolman was Rolling Stone’s first chief photographer. Throughout the 1970s he captured iconic images of Woodstock and performers like Johnny Cash, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, just to mention the Js! Sophie Kipner is an artist who specializes in blind contouring. For Wolman photograph was a means of quieting the chaos. For Kipner, blind drawing was a way to get out of the way of her own artistic expression. These two artists unite in a one-on-one collaboration where Kipner reimagines Wolman’s photographs through her unique art style.
Sophie and the Baron is simply a delight! And I would love to see a full-length documentary on Baron Wolman’s career.
Sophie and the Baron had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival. Visit the official website of the film for more information.
Director Dawn Porter (John Lewis: Good Trouble) delivers again with another political documentary wrought with emotion. Inspired by the best-selling book, The Way I See It tells the story of Pete Souza, former photographer for the Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama administrations.
On that fateful day in January 2017 when Donald Trump was sworn in as president and Obama left the White House, Souza sensed that the country had lost something substantial. Having spent four years photographing Obama in moments both historic and intimate, Souza thought he was ready to retire. But he just couldn’t keep quiet as he saw the rapidly changing political climate. He started an Instagram account to share some of his photos and it quickly turned into his form of resistance.
In an age when we are exposed to a constant stream of video content, we forget how powerful a still photograph can be. Souza’s photographs capture a mood, an emotion and offer insight and context. Fleeting moments frozen in time. With his Instagram, Souza delivers biting political commentary with posts that are perfectly timed to respond to whatever is happening in the news. He uses the past throw shade at the present.
The Way I See It may be the most important documentary you’ll see this year. It is heartbreaking and emotional in its nostalgia of an era that is quickly slipping away from our collective memory. Porter offers us not only a biography of a photographer but also of his most captivating subject: Barack Obama. While there is also attention paid to Souza’s work in the Reagan administration, this film is more pointedly political and will appeal more to viewers with liberal points of view rather than conservative ones. Souza’s story will awaken your empathy, no matter how dormant, and will empower you to get out and VOTE.
When Johannes Gutenberg invented moveable type in the 15th century, the world changed forever. The printing press ushered us out of the Dark Ages into the Age of Enlightenment. Fast forward today’s Information Age and we still have much to thank Gutenberg for how the printing press revolutionized the world. For centuries, letterpress, a form of of pressing ink into paper with the use of engravings carved into wood, metal, linoleum or zinc cut plates, was the standard for creating books, newspapers, magazines, brochures, pamphlets, posters and many other forms of printed words on paper. Over the years, the craft of letterpress was fine tuned byartisans who learned how turn type into an art form. Unlike today’s flash in the pan technology which quickly becomes replaced or obsolete, letterpress machines were improved upon in such a way they became timeless. A machine from a century ago could still function the way it was intended if handled with care. With the birth of offset printing in the mid-Twentieth Century and the advent of computers, letterpress became obsolete. But a group of letterpress printers who value the art and craft of the process are keeping it alive and hoping to pass on their knowledge to the next generation.
Co-directed by Andrew P. Quinn and Erin Beckloff, Pressing On: The Letterpress Film is a love letter to this art form. It asks the question, why is there still a love for this obsolete technology? The documentary seeks out to answer this with interviews of letterpress printers, both professionals and hobbyists who honed their craft, appreciate the process and ultimately find joy in it. The film revels in the romanc and nostalgia of this form of graphic design. The beat up blocks, the machinery, the colorful designs, the beautiful typography are all part of a long tradition handed down from generation to generation. The interview subjects hail from mid-west and mid-Atlantic. We hear from people who operate independent presses whether at established shops or out of their garage. We learn about the long tradition of Hatch Show Print in Tennessee which made concert posters a collectible art and the Hamilton Museum which keeps the history of letterpress alive. I was particularly taken with the interviews with hobbyist Dave Churchman who collected, you could even say hoarded, letter press equipment. He passed away in 2015 and within the film we also hear from his son who was left in charge of the vast collection his father left behind.
There is a “pressing” need to pass on the knowledge of the art of letterpress to the next generation so it won’t be lost. Today we can appreciate the unique aesthetic of letterpress as a form of graphic design (everything you do in your Adobe Suite is influenced by letterpress!) but can we save the process? When the master printers pass on, who will carry their torch?
Pressing On: The Letterpress Film is a sensitive and reflective documentary that is clearly in love with its subject. It’s joyful about the form but melancholy about the future. If you have any interest in the history of technology, in graphic design or even in what drives people to pursue their passion, I would highly recommend watching this film.