Excerpt from the documentary “NUTS!” by Penny Lane
Earlier this summer, filmmaker Penny Lane premiered her Creative Capital project, NUTS!, about a Great Depression-era doctor who claimed to have cured impotence by implanting goat testicles into his patients. In making the film, Penny has been considering truth-telling and how documentaries are affected by dramatic story telling and creative editing. Today, she launched NOTES ON NUTS!, a footnote-like website that offers a critical look at her film NUTS! as well as documentary-making itself. Penny sent us this essay on the continuation of her project.
Trust is paramount in nonfiction. Your audience needs to trust that you’re honoring the documentary promise—the promise to in some essential way tell the truth—and so does your subject. That trust is your most valuable currency. Violating it is a tricky business.
What I want to suggest today is that the practice of annotation is a powerful act of transparency that nonfiction filmmakers might adapt to great effect.
By creating NOTES ON NUTS!, a database of over 300 footnotes tied to my Creative Capital project NUTS!, I had the idea that I could create one case study in order to instigate a whole new conversation: what would happen if documentary filmmakers started to regularly use footnotes?
This is meant as a provocation to my field, maybe even a call to action. Certainly a call to debate. I hope people will look at NOTES ON NUTS! critically. It is a kind of pioneer work; its flaws will be instructive to the next filmmaker who dares tread here.
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?
On the cusp of the debut of their new film, The Yes Men (2000 Emerging Fields) have written a blog post for us detailing the various ways they have funded their feature-length projects over the past decade. From working with HBO to desperately touring Sundance to using crowd funding platforms, it hasn’t always been easy, they tell us.
We are currently preparing for a June 12 release of The Yes Men are Revolting, the third movie in a series that began fifteen years ago with a Creative Capital grant. As we gear up for the release, one of the most common questions we’re asked is how we support our work. Sadly, the answer today is more difficult and complex than ever.
In 2000, we were in the first round of awards from the fledgling Creative Capital. In hindsight, we really had no clue how lucky we were. We leveraged that grant to get a few more (NYFA Fellowships, a Herb Alpert Award, a couple of Guggenheim and Langlois grants). That covered the cost of launching a barrage of creative actions aimed at the World Trade Organization, which became the backbone of our first film, The Yes Men. The grants covered these actions, and the filmmaking costs were covered by Chris Smith, the Sundance prize-winning director who directed that movie, using his earnings from commercial work to finance it all. Continue reading →
Experimental filmmaker and video artist Peggy Ahwesh (2000 Moving Image) was part of Creative Capital’s first class of awardees with her work The Star Eaters, a short film about gambling, risk-taking and failure in one woman’s trip through Atlantic City. Since then, Peggy’s career has not stopped for a minute. Most recently she was commissioned for The Times Square Advertising Coalition and Times Square Arts’ Midnight Moment with a piece entitled City Thermogram. Using a thermal camera from Princeton’s MIRTHE Lab, Peggy roamed the streets of New York City shooting city views and recording the “glow of the heat generating systems and devices we rely on.” So every night in April from 11:57pm to midnight, Peggy’s piece have taken over the video screens of Times Square. The installation ends on April 30, so if you’re in New York, wander over to Time Square just before midnight!
To celebrate her latest achievement, here are our top five Peggy Ahwesh films, in no particular order, as we take a look back at her career. Continue reading →
Remember those zoetropes you had as a kid showing the silhouette of a galloping race horse? Baltimore artist Eric Dyer has developed the concept of this pre-cinema device to stunning results. For his Creative Capital project, Short Ride, he is building a massive tunnel you can walk through with thousands of moving parts. We interviewed Eric during his recent exhibition at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. To learn more about Eric Dyer and Short Ride, click here.
Creative Capital is pleased to announce its 2015 awardees in the categories of Moving Image and Visual Arts, representing a total of 46 funded projects selected from a nationwide pool of more than 3,700 proposals. Drawing on venture-capital principles, Creative Capital seeks out artists’ projects that are bold, innovative and genre-stretching, then surrounds those artists with the tools they need to realize their visions and build sustainable careers.
The 2015 Creative Capital Artists are an incredible group of creative thinkers, representing 50 artists at all stages of their careers with an age range of 28 to 80 years old. They hail from 13 states plus Puerto Rico and Canada; more than half are women, and more than half identify as non-European American. Each funded project receives up to $50,000 in direct funding, plus additional resources and advisory services valued at $45,000, making the organization’s total 2015 investment more than $4,370,000. Continue reading →
A multi-element moving image work exploring the intertwined histories of nuclear reactors, uranium minds and Native American land.
Anna Sew Hoy - Psychic Body Grotto
A sculptural installation of bronze "grottos" enlarged from spontaneous gestures in clay.
Gala Porras-Kim - The Mute Object and Ancient Stories of Today
Examines the link between an undesciphered script found on Mesoamerican artifacts and the development of a standardized dictionary for the Zapotec language in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Lorraine O'Grady - MBN - 30 Years Later
The artist's performance persona, Mlle Bourgoise Noire, transforms into a new avatar who protests a money-driven art world to restore the cultural purpose it has lost.
Danielle Dean - Trainers, Part 2
A multi-channel video work, performed and reworked by community members in the Alief neighborhood in Houston, that uses language from Nike commercials and political speeches to investigate how advertising shapes subjects.
Heather Cassils - The Resilience of the 20%: Monument Project
A series of bronze monuments, cast from the artist's attacks on 2000-pound clay blocks and placed at sites where acts of violence towards gender nonconforming people have occurred.
Carolina Caycedo - Be Dammed
An interdisciplinary project investigating the effects that large dams have on natural and social landscapes in several American bio-regions.
A.K. Burns - Negative Space
A multi-channel video installation that presents a surreal narrative of bodies in transition and their relationship to nature, technology, territories and resources.
Travis Wilkerson - Blood Relations
A documentary murder mystery examining the complexities of a racially-charged crime in the filmmaker's own family history.
Dan Schneidkraut - Vore King
A detailed character study of R.P. Whalen, world famous horror host, trash movie guru, carnival sideshow barker, and America's premier purveyor of vorarephilia fetish pornography.
Jon Rubin - The Sitcom
An experimental, transnational sitcom set and shot both in Tehran and Los Angeles, repositioning the conflict and cultural misrepresentation that characterize U.S./Iranian political relations into the absurdist sphere of a domestic comedy.
Jennifer Reeder - As With Knives and Skin
A deadpan glimpse into the lives of both teenagers and adults during the aftermath of a young girl's disappearance in a rural, racially diverse town in Ohio
Carlo Ontal - Kitoko Ya Kolela
A performance piece, series of photo and painting exhibitions, and film drawing on a photojournalist's experience in the Congo.
Jillian Mayer & Lucas Leyva - #PostModem
A multi-platform narrative culminating in a satirical sci-fi pop musical about a girl who frees futuristic Miami from corporate powers with the help of viral videos.
Lily & Honglei - Shadow Play: Tales of Urbanization of China
A multimedia installation that utilizes animation and emerging technologies to visualize the metamorphosis created by urbanization in China.
Velez, Ivan - The Ballad of Wham Kabam!
A series of five interconnected comic books that use the tropes and style of the classic superhero genre to tell the story of America's multicultural history.
Wu Tsang - Duilian
A film project exploring the legacy of historical Chinese poet and revolutionary Qui Jin (1857-1907) through a "queer lens," considering Western and non-Western LGBTQ identity constructions.
Katrin Sigurdardottir - Supra Terram
A large-scale installation in which a cave-like structure intersects a building on two levels and redefines the architecture of the building with its volume.
Carrie Schneider - The Readers
An installation of 50 film-based portraits of influential women authors, activists, critics, artists and poets immersed in the act of reading.
Beatriz Santiago Muñoz - Verano de Mujeres
A feminist ethno-fiction based on the visionary world-view and sensorial experiences of a group of women in R'o Piedras, Puerto Rico.
Jeanine Oleson - A human(e) orchestra
An ever-changing "orchestra" that uses a range of noises, from conventional music to speech acts, to produce compositions around agreed-upon issues or audiences in need of "music."
Brittany Nelson - Alternative Process
A series of large-scale digital prints examining the materials of alternative process photography through the artist's experimentations with raw photo-chemical materials.
Narcissister - Organ Player
A feature-length experimental art film based on, and elaborating on, the artists' acclaimed performance of the same name.
Jon Kessler - The Time Was Now
An immersive sculpture and video installation dealing with the inevitable march of time.
Titus Kaphar - Jerome Project
An interdisciplinary investigation into the criminal justice system through the lens of the common and traditionally African-American name, Jerome.
Eric Gottesman - The Oromaye Project
A series that takes assassinated Ethiopian novelist Baalu Girma's Oromaye as the point of departure for a transnational participatory public photography project.
Mariam Ghani - What we left unfinished
A collaboration with Afghan filmmakers to examine unfinished state-sponsored films during the years of Afghan Communism (1978-1991) as records of fleeting iterations of the Afghan state, and imagine new narratives from the fragments.
Maria Gaspar - Out of Field
A series of outdoor visual and sonic installations on the West Side of Chicago that bring experiences and narratives from Cook County Jail out into the neighborhood that surrounds the detention facility.
Abigail DeVille - The Bronx: History of Now
A series of 100 site-specific sculptural installations constructed from found objects, fragments of histories and community narratives to tell the story of the present moment in the Bronx.
Mike Crane - UHF42
A 90-minute television program filmed entirely within the confines of an independent television station in the West Bank.
Lee Anne Schmitt - So That I May Come Back
A non-traditional documentary based on the case of Mary Bell, who was 11 years old when she was convicted of killing two small boys in England.
Ry Russo-Young - The Family Movie
A narrative feature film based on the true story of the artist's known sperm donor suing her lesbian mothers for visitation and paternity rights when she was nine years old.
Shawn Peters - The Art of Dying Young
A series of short films that "re-memorialize" young men who were previously memorialized with death murals in Brooklyn; the films, which incorporate augmented reality technology, are intended to be accessed and viewed on smart phones at the site of the memorial ritual.
Lorelei Pepi - Vigil
An interactive installation that uses facial tracking technology to encourage viewers to engage with and stand vigil for animated representations of "the Other."
Pat O'Neill - Drift, Wait, Obey
A multi-screen video installation that presents imagery drawn from life and radically restructured using digital technologies.
Nathan Lotfy - Fire
A feature film following fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in the days leading up to his symbolic act of self-immolation, which sparked the Tunisian revolution and the subsequent Arab Spring.
Jeff Malmberg & Chris Shellen - Teatro
A documentary about villagers in a small Italian farming town who preserve their heritage and confront their community issues by turning their lives into a play.
Shola Lynch - Harriet: Live Free or Die Trying
A narrative film about an unlikely but true action heroine Harriet Tubman
Andy Kropa - Hacking Alzheimers
A wearable system that aims to improve the quality of life for people affected by Alzheimer's disease and dementia by using perpetually-recording cameras as an aid to memory.
Klip Collective - Vacant America
A series of videos projections on vacant structures that draw on submitted stories and imagery to uncover physical residues and memories of each forgotten space.
Maryam Keshavarz - The Last Harem
A feature film set in 19th-century Persia that follows a rebellious cross-dressing musician and her romance with the boy-king Nasir.
Lauren Kelley - Holiday Way
A stop-motion animated video series based on fictional narratives set on or around major holidays.
Christopher Harris - Speaking In Tongues
An experimental, hand-processed 16mm film inspired by Ishmael Reed's novel "Mumbo Jumbo."
Cherien Dabis - No End in Sight
An immersive cinematic experience that follows the story of a young Muslim woman taking part in the Egyptian revolution.
Martha Colburn - Western Wilds
A stop-motion film based on popular stories about the American West written by German author Karl May in the 1890s.
Michael Almereyda - The Happy Man's Shirt
A series of linked short films adapted from Medieval Italian folktales, remained in contemporary settings.
Today, we announced the 2015 Creative Capital Artists in Moving Image and Visual Arts. We could not be more excited about the 46 new funded projects—an incredibly diverse group hailing from 13 states plus Puerto Rico and Canada. We’ve arrived at this day thanks in huge part to the work of our valued colleagues who help us select each group of Creative Capital Artists. While we worked with more than 100 consultants during the ten-month process, two consultants advised us during the entire award round, reviewing submissions at every stage. I asked Mike Plante (Programmer at the Sundance Film Festival and our Program Consultant for Moving Image) and Dean Daderko (Curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, and our Program Consultant for Visual Arts) a few questions about what it was like to work with Creative Capital on the process.
Lisa Dent: What motivated you to work with Creative Capital as a Program Consultant for this award round?
Mike Plante: Everyone wants to help artists and filmmakers make a project but it’s difficult to know how to actually do it. Creative Capital has made the blueprint. It’s rare to give filmmakers and artists money with few strings attached, but that is exactly what CC does. To be part of a process that finds amazing artists across the country, discuss their ideas and the path they are on – and to then give them not only financial help but real-world advice about balancing work and life. It’s really a dream project.
Dean Daderko: My motivation is pretty simple: I know of no other funding body that is as forward-thinking, as deeply generous, or as profoundly invested in being responsive to artists’ practices as Creative Capital. They fund the projects other organizations wouldn’t even consider! The end game here isn’t a substantial check—their commitment begins well before artists reach this stage, and continues throughout the life of the project, and beyond! Creative Capital understands fundamentally that by working with artists as partners—and by providing not just money, but thought, time and rich reserves of resources and connections—that they can positively and productively shape the future. Their unconventional and deeply responsible approach gives artists an incredible amount of agency, and they’re invited to bring their creative approaches to innovating and developing a game plan that’s uniquely responsive to the goals and concerns of their projects. The success they’ve had with this artist-centric strategy speaks for itself: so many artists will tell you what a dream it is to work with Creative Capital. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the staff are some of the friendliest, most helpful, and well-connected people around either! Ruby Lerner is my hero! Continue reading →
We’re gearing up for a busy winter at Creative Capital, as we prepare to announce our 2015 class of Visual Arts and Moving Image Awardees this Wednesday and to open our application for Emerging Fields, Performing Arts and Literature grants in February. I caught up with Ruby Lerner (Creative Capital’s President and Executive Director) and Lisa Dent (Director of Resources & Award Programs) to reflect on our original mission, the projects that have astonished us over the years and why we continue to support risk-takers.
Maura Guyote: Creative Capital has always been committed to supporting artists with singular visions who dream up ambitious projects and aren’t afraid to take risks. Can you talk about why that mission is important?
Ruby Lerner: In any field, if you don’t have experimenters, you don’t have progress. Think about the medical field. We’d still be using leeches if there hadn’t been experimentation and research. So experimentation is really critical for any field to move forward. It’s imperative. In the arts we see a lot of risk aversion, so there need to be portals where risk is honored and appreciated. Not all risks will succeed but we need people to stand behind the risk takers and that’s a role we’ve created for ourselves. Continue reading →
This has been a busy year for artist and filmmaker Banker White (2008 Film/Video). On September 8, PBS will air his documentary The Genius of Marian, a portrait of his family’s struggle to deal with his mother’s Alzheimer’s disease. As he continues to work on his Creative Capital project, WeOwnTV—which helps young filmmakers in Freetown, Sierra Leone hone their craft—Banker has experienced firsthand a recent outbreak of the Ebola virus. We decided to check in with Banker to get his thoughts on his upcoming documentary, and what’s going on in Sierra Leone.
Alex Teplitzky:The Genius of Marian follows Pam White, your mother, as she begins to write a book about her own mother, Marian. A year after beginning the book, Pam is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and so the film picks up where Pam’s book may not be able to finish. As a filmmaker, do you see yourself as creating almost a prosthetic form of memory which empowers people to remember?
Banker White: Well, when I pressed record for the first time for this project that was absolutely the intention, but it was done for very personal reasons. My mother’s book project was the point of departure, the deep desire to memorialize someone we love and to connect with the difficult and complex emotions that surround losing them.
I moved back to the Boston area in 2009 with my mother and father to help out just after her official diagnosis, and working on the book was our daily activity. We looked at old pictures, watched old movies, and talked about and relived many memories. I also learned a lot about my mother’s life that I never knew—mostly in the details. I knew her folks were divorced while she was in high school, but never talked with her at length about it. Right after my mother’s diagnosis she was really paralyzed and depressed by the shame and she never talked about her own dementia, but this daily activity seemed to open her up. Talking with me and doing video diary entries became a kind of confessional for her. The project grew to be more about her own diagnosis and how it was affecting our family.