Category Archives: In the Works

In the Works: KURT VONNEGUT: UNSTUCK IN TIME

A portrait of a beloved, influential American author, and the story of the more than three decade odyssey to complete it.

vonnegutIn 1982 documentary filmmaker Robert Weide contacted Kurt Vonnegut, proposing that he make a documentary about his life and career. Securing the author’s permission, the project commenced in 1988 – but what was intended to be completed in short course carried on until Vonnegut’s death in 2007. Over the intervening decades, the filmmaker and his literary idol became close – so much so, that the meta story of their friendship eventually found its way into the project, spurring Weide to complete the film with the assistance of filmmaker Don Argott.

Weide and Argott are nearing the end of a Kickstarter campaign to allow them to finish the long-gestating project. At the time of this writing, they’re closing in on their goal, having received over 80% of their $250,000 target so far. With just over a week and half to go before the deadline, there’s time for interested readers to contribute. For more information about the project, check out its website.

Vonnegut was the first author whose work I became obsessed with as a teenager, so, on a personal level, I’m extremely curious about the insight Weide gained about the author’s life and work through their decades-long collaboration. The fact that Weide was also behind Larry David’s CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM as a director and executive producer promises a knowing appreciation of Vonnegut’s sense of humor and satire. While I’m typically extremely wary of meta elements to nonfiction projects, it’s a welcome sign that Weide has brought in Argott, himself an accomplished documentarian (LAST DAYS HERE, THE ART OF THE STEAL, and ROCK SCHOOL, among others), to oversee this element, who will hopefully providing some distance. At the same time, it’s the rare project that is crafted over such a lengthy period of time, so in this case, focusing some attention on the story behind the story seems justified, and, as the filmmakers note, at least in the case of Vonnegut, meta-textuality is a defining characteristic of his work, so this aspect should have a direct resonance with the film’s ultimate subject.

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Special Note: Submit Your Project to w(n)td

Just a quick reminder: To have your feature-length documentary work-in-progress (in production or post) considered for a potential profile here as part of my occasional In the Works feature, use the submission form on the Submit page. Note that preference is typically given to docs that are just beginning crowdfunding campaigns, in order to give readers a chance to become more engaged with projects.

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In the Works: SKY LINE

Can scientists make a celebrated sci-fi author’s vision of a functional space elevator a reality?

sky lineIn his 22nd century-set award-winning 1979 novel, THE FOUNTAINS OF PARADISE, noted science-fiction author Arthur C Clarke imagined an orbital tower connecting Earth with an orbiting satellite, eliminating the need for costly and environmentally destructive rockets. While he did not originate the concept, which was first theorized by Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in 1895, drawing inspiration from the Eiffel Tower, Clarke’s novel popularized the idea of the space elevator. While various scientists have considered the possibility of actually realizing such a project, they have been hampered by the lack of strong enough materials or sufficiently advanced technology to make it feasible. Directors Miguel Drake-McLaughlin and Jonny Leahan follow a group of scientists exploring the possibilities enabled by new technological developments to make this seemingly unattainable goal a reality, and to allow them to reach for the stars. Continue reading

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In the Works: ALMOST THERE

The story of the unexpected consequences of newfound attention on an undiscovered outsider artist.

almost_there-01After filmmakers Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden meet Peter Anton drawing portraits at Chicago’s Pierogifest, they start to befriend the octogenarian artist, and learn that he has created a series of elaborate autobiographical collage diaries in which he has documented every year of his life. Fascinated by his work, they become wrapped up in his life, especially when they discover that his lifelong home has fallen into squalor. When the filmmakers help him mount a gallery exhibition of his outsider art for the first time, this leads to unanticipated revelations about his past, a radical change in his living situation, and questions about the limits of altruism. Continue reading

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In the Works: WELCOME TO LEITH

A nearly deserted North Dakotan town becomes the unlikely battleground for white supremacy.

craig-cobb-welcome-to-leithWith no more than two dozen inhabitants, rural Leith ND drew the attention of Craig Cobb, a notorious white supremacist who had relocated to the state due to the recent oil boom, because of the availability of land. Purchasing several plots, he later expressed his intent: to draw other white supremacists to the town and take over its governance, a goal met with resistance by the long-time residents. Filmmakers Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher Walker chronicle the standoff, as the two opposed small communities try to lay claim to their self-determination with the help of their supporters. Continue reading

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In the Works: ELSTREE 1976

A look at STAR WARS from the perspectives of extras and bit players who appeared in the first film.

elstree 1976George Lucas’ seminal sci-fi blockbuster has worked its magic over viewers since its debut in 1977, with sequels, prequels, and subsequent re-releases, not to mention comic book, novel, toy, and cartoon tie-ins, fueling new generations of fandom. Several documentary projects have been produced, from behind-the-scenes “making-of” or appreciations that have appeared as bonus content on official releases, or independent productions often exploring the fanbase itself. Director Jon Spira’s new project takes a more microscopic approach, focusing on the original film through the experiences of several individuals who appeared in it – but not its stars, but instead bit players or extras who may have only been on-screen for seconds. Far from being what they expected to be a forgettable job they had in suburban North London in the Summer of 1976, Spira’s subjects reflect on their unanticipated, continued connection to the film. Continue reading

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In the Works: HAVANA MOTOR CLUB

Cuban auto enthusiasts find their hopes for a legal car race dashed by the Pope’s visit – among other roadblocks.

havana motorOne of the most visible indicators of the US sanctions against Cuba since the Revolution is the anachronistic presence of vintage 1950s cars that dot its streets. For the most part, only those with political connections and money have been able to afford newer imported cars from Europe or Asia. For most, refitted classic cars have been the only option, and, for some, a source of pride, such as the men of Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt’s film. With car racing long outlawed by Castro, they’ve held underground drag races. With recent reforms, the men grow excited about participating in the first legal race since 1959, painstakingly working on finding the right parts to give them the edge. But when a Papal visit cancels their plans, organizers find themselves caught in limbo. Continue reading

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