Penny Lane’s Creative Capital Project is NUTS!

Penny Lane is a filmmaker who focuses on lesser-known histories as a means of reconsidering current issues. So, it’s no surprise that she took an interest in the little known tale of John Romulus Brinkley, a man who gained national fame and fortune after curing impotence in the early 1900s, inventing the informercial and dismissed his critics as “the establishment.” NUTS!, Penny’s Creative Capital-supported project, has already received accolades in film festivals like Sundance and Rotterdam. It premieres June 22 at Film Forum in New York, followed by a release in other major cities. We caught up with Penny to ask her a few questions about the project.

Alex Teplitzky: The Guardian calls the film’s plot “a story so odd you’ll wonder why you haven’t heard it before.” How did you come across it?

Penny Lane: Like all good things, I found the story of John Romulus Brinkley in a public library. I stumbled on Charlatan by Pope Brock—a really terrific book—and was hooked pretty much right away. As a nonfiction filmmaker I’m constantly scanning for stories, and in my case those stories almost always come from reading. (I suppose for some other filmmakers the stories come from traveling, or talking to people. I like to sit alone and read books; sue me).

And as I began telling friends about this amazing story, about “a guy who used to implant goat testicles into dudes to cure impotence,” I was amazed that a lot of people would ask, “Well… did it work?”

No, of course it didn’t! But I began to think about how much people want to believe in miracle cures. The weirder the better, really. How “one weird trick to melt belly fat” is way better click-bait than “eat less to lose weight.” Who doesn’t sometimes wish the world was more interesting, more magical, more colorful than it really is?

This is why the highest-rated Animal Planet program of all time was a fake documentary about mermaids. This is why Water Kirn falls for Clark Rockefeller. Why conspiracy theories are so compelling. And why we fall for quack doctors, time and time again: they sell us a story we want to believe. This insight became the core of the film that—a mere eight years later—is NUTS!

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Artist to Artist: Miwa Matreyek and Janie Geiser on Collaboration, Wonder and the Importance of Tinkering

Miwa Matreyek (left) and Janie Geiser (right)

Janie Geiser (left) and Miwa Matreyek (right)

As part of our “Artist to Artist” interview series, Miwa Matreyek (2013 Performing Arts) and Janie Geiser (2000 Performing Arts) sat down to discuss commonalities in their work. The following is an excerpt from their conversation. You can listen online to the full podcast, or subscribe through iTunes.

Miwa: We’re here talking about our work for Creative Capital. I just showed Janie my Creative Capital project, This World Made Itself, and I’ve seen a lot of Janie’s puppetry work as well as her films, and Janie’s seen my work. We’ve been in each others’ worlds for a few years. Janie was one of my mentors from CalArts who really inspired me to do performance, so it’s really thrilling to have this conversation.

Janie: Yeah, I’m very happy to be here talking with you in your apartment, where I can feel the presence. I see the collages that I’ve seen on your website. It’s really amazing. So, it might be a good starting place, thinking about your work as collage and how you combine images and how you went from still collages into performance and film.

Miwa: I actually consider the performances as a collage. Continue reading

In Focus: Daniel Sousa’s animated film “Feral”

Daniel Sousa, still from "Feral"
Daniel Sousa, still from Feral

This week, Daniel Sousa (2008 Film/Video) premieres his Creative Capital-supported project, Feral, in the Shorts Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, with screenings on January 19, 21, 22, 23 and 26 (full screening details). The 13-minute animated film tells the story of a wild boy found in the woods by a solitary hunter and brought back to civilization. Alienated by a strange new environment, the boy tries to adapt by using the same strategies that kept him safe in the forest.

The structure of Sousa’s film is associative, abstract and poetic; the animation includes 2-D, graphically animated characters and hand-painted frames. I talked with Sousa to learn more about his approach to storytelling and his animation process:

Jenny: What is your approach to storytelling? How did this story about a wild boy struggling to adapt to society develop?

Daniel: I have always been interested in the duality that seems to exist between our intellectual and our physical selves, between our thoughts and our urges. I explored that literally in my film Minotaur (1998), about a half-man, half-animal creature. And to a certain extent, that struggle between conflicting instincts is also present in Fable (2005), where two people are trying to find each other, but are stuck in a cycle of love and hate. With Feral, I wanted to ask what it is that defines us as human beings and separates us from the other animals. If we were raised without the benefit of human contact, culture and education, would we still behave like humans? Or are we more like mirrors that reflect whatever environment we are exposed to? Does a child raised by wolves become a wolf too?

As I started to research the idea, I found that in almost every documented historical account of feral children, if the child is re-introduced into society after a critical formative period has elapsed—during which language and other cognitive skills are acquired—he or she is never quite able to adapt to the new environment. They are stuck between two worlds—not quite human, and not quite animal. I thought this state of limbo was both heartbreaking and impossible to illustrate without resorting to a poetic medium like animation, where the internal lives of characters can be externalized through visual metaphors. Continue reading

In Focus: Ben Marcus’s “The Flame Alphabet” Releases on January 17

Ben Marcus (2009 Literature) just shared the completed book trailer for The Flame Alphabet with us! Prepare to be awed (and completely creeped out) by Erin Cosgrove’s brilliant animation and Ben’s chilling story.

The Flame Alphabet, which was just selected as an Amazon Best Book for January, will be published by Knopf on January 17. Ben will be reading at events across the country in the coming months; click here for listings.

Ben Marcus Collaborates with Erin Cosgrove on Animated Book Trailer

We were so thrilled to hear that Ben Marcus (2009 Literature) is collaborating with fellow grantee Erin Cosgrove (2008 Film/Video) on an animated book trailer for his Creative Capital-supported project, The Flame Alphabet. Ben wrote to us, “The book trailer is going to be an exciting piece of art in its own right—Erin does amazing work, and in some sense this piece will also stand on its own as part of her oeuvre.”

The Flame Alphabet will be published in January by Knopf. In Library Journal‘s advance review of The Flame Alphabet, Barbara Hoffert writes:

Fierce, scary, hurtful, unsettling, and brilliant, this new work by award-winning novelist Marcus (Notable American Women) reminds us that language is dangerous and that we’ll do anything to protect our children, even when they are (literally) killing us. In the world imagined here, a terrible epidemic has descended: whenever children speak, adults sicken and eventually die. At first, only Jewish families are stricken, stirring echoes of history’s uglier sentiments. But soon every adult is affected. Continue reading