Geneva Anderson digs into art

“My Suicide” premieres at Mystic Theatre, Friday, September 25, features Penngrove screenwriter/producer Eric J. Adams and Petaluma actor, filmmaker Gabriel Sunday in lead role

My Suicide posterThere’s still time to get tickets for tonight’s North Bay premiere and benefit screening of “My Suicide” at Petaluma’s Mystic Theatre.  “My Suicide”  tells the riveting story of Archie Williams, a brilliant and troubled 17 year old ADHD, media-savvy teen who announces to his high school film class that he is going to kill himself on camera for his final film project.   Archie’s project brings  unintended but devastating consequences.  “My Suicide”  not only delivers one hell of a story, with eye-popping effects, it’s also a portal into the complex life of today’s teens who are facing pressures they feel they can’t cope with and that adults don’t understand.  The indie film was four years in the making and has numerous local connections—it was co-written and produced by Penngrove screenwriter Eric J. Adams, stars Petaluma actor and filmmaker Gabriel Sunday, and parts of the film were shot in Petaluma’s Phoenix Theatre.  The film has picked up numerous audience and jury awards at film-festivals world wide, had its West Coast premiere in May at the SFIFF52 (San Francisco International Film Festival) and as it comes off the film festival circuit, it is about to be more widely distributed though a company that Adams and his partners have set-up.   Tonight’s screening, hosted by the newly created Petaluma Film Alliance, will benefit Regenerate and Five Alive, two teen-oriented non-profit organizations working to prevent teen suicide. Following the film, Mike Traina, film instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College Petaluma campus and PFA coordinator will lead a discussion with the Adams, Sunday and others who had role in the film.

Eric J. Adams, of Penngrove, co-wrote and produced the award-winning indie feature film "My Suicide"

Eric J. Adams, of Penngrove, co-wrote and produced the award-winning indie feature film "My Suicide"

I recently had the pleasure of talking with both Eric Adams and Gabe Sunday about “My Suicide” and will be posting the interview with Gabe shortly.  Eric and I met on Thursday in Penngrove to chat about his experience with the film.  Heads up–this interview contains discussion about plot twists that you may wish to leave as a surprise.  These portions appear below in bold face so that you may skip them. 

Geneva Anderson: How has the film been received?

Eric J. Adams:  We’ve gotten very good reaction and lots of awards everywhere we go—audience and grand jury awards.  The goal was to create conversation around the teen experience.  It’s not even about suicide but about that teen experience and point of view.  We wanted it to be a very in-your-face movie.   Parents tend to love it because it is unquestionably from a kid’s point of view, which most parents want to understand.

The response that we get from kids is that it’s good.  We have kids coming up to us saying this movie captures how I feel more than any other one out there.   The reports we get is that it opens up conversations all over the place about who I am, what I really feel, what hurts me and that’s the conversation that needs to happen between parents and kids.  Another message is “I am not alone and this is not something that I am going through by myself.  I have a generational link with others who are going through this.”  Knowing that takes them out of isolation and isolation is the number one factor in suicide.

We actually got an email from a kid who said he went to our movie because he thought it was going to help him kill himself but, when he came out of the movie, things were different.  It was such a perfect email, we thought it was a hoax, so we contacted him and got in touch with his parents and we all sat down together and they all ended up coming to another screening at that film festival.  It was quite amazing. 

Geneva Anderson: What is important for us to know about the way you as a screen writer approached this project?

Eric J. Adams:  Well, I worked directly with David Phillips. We’ve been friends since the 1970’s, back in our hippie days and we’ve have always sort of helped each other on projects, co-writing, etc.  David created the idea of “My Suicide” and his son Jordan Miller helped him.  When we got to the script, we knew that we wanted to do something that was revolutionary and was always from the kid’s point of view. 

Whenever we were at a script moment, the question that we would ask each other was what would Archie do?  The story had to be from a young person’s point of view and a young person of today who is an aggregation of many different media.  For us, growing up, there was film and there was tv.  For them, there’s film, tv, internet, YouTube, iphone, public domain stuff, content that they’re shooting themselves, and all sorts of variants—documentary, animation, so forth.  We want to make it as if Archie took a palette of all the media that was available to him and he ran with it.

“Natural Born Killers” was one of the movies that inspired us and, as violent as it was, it was an absolutely brilliant movie and probably 15 years ahead of its time.  It used such innovative modern storytelling techniques—taking a plotpoint and creating a vignette around it rather than dramatizing it.   We did this in the opening scene where you learn all about Archie through a visual vignette and re-employed that technique to add color throughout the film incorporating wild effects, animation, etc.

Archie and Sierra's world is upside down in My Suicide

Archie and Sierra's world is upside down in My Suicide

But this is really a very traditional three act story, right from the screen play, it’s the hero’s journey–the concept of the young man going on a journey to find the trurth and having to take risks and then coming back to save someone.  From the plot point of view, this is a classic story that could have been written in Rome 2,000 years ago.  

Geneva Anderson:  Is “My Suicide” anyone in particular’s story?

Eric J. Adams:  No, it’s not based on anyone.  Both David and I are children of the 1960’s and 1970’s and a lot of the emotion was there from that—we brought a lot of our own teen years into it.  When Gabe came on, he became the major editor and this was after we had a good credentialed Hollywood name editor work on it and give us something that didn’t fit.  We went right back to the drawing board and started with Gabe and he delivered what we wanted.  He turned the tone correct.

Geneva Anderson: How old was he at that point?

Eric J. Adams:  About twenty, I’d say.  I worked with him up here when he was 18 and I saw his brilliance and this was around the time that Dave and I were putting together our LLC for this film.  He’s a young adult now, who has some distance on adolescence but can still jump back in.  He looks young…you actually see him from 18 to age 22.  We kept on filming the entire time it was being edited and added the little scenes here and there.  For example, the ending was shot 3 or 4 years after the principle photography was done.  He has that puffy face teen look in many of the scenes.  We rented him that back house, which is the guest house in the movie, gave him a camera and a green-screen and said “go at it, investigate your character, create Archie from a character point of view.”

Geneva Anderson:  Do you remember your teenage years as being so traumatic?  What accounts for the tremendous dissatisfaction we’re seeing in today’s teens like Archie?

Eric J. Adams: I question that statement…I have 18 and  20 year old sons and I don’t see them or their friends as being dissatisfied.  I think I see the same ratio of craziness to goodness that I saw when I was a kid.  The craziness is just getting more hype.  And I don’t think kids are that much different today but they have additional pressures.  For example, with the Internet they have access to instant pornography, hard core stuff, which they can access at a very young age.

Geneva Anderson: Yes, so they are “experts” on sex or violence with no practical experience.  In fact, that is what media offers–familiarity without any practical experience.  Combine that with raging hormones and you’ve got serious volatility.

Green-screened Archie rants at a surreal and epic rally in My Suicide.

Green-screened Archie rants at a surreal and epic rally in My Suicide.

Eric J. Adams:  Yes, and that actually puts some pressure or fear in them.  Now, when they see sex, especially the hard core porn which is scary stuff even if you’re a seasoned sexual person, they must feel pressure.  That could almost delay their entry into sexuality, that along with the pressure of knowing how you’re expected to perform and everything that’s supposed to happen.  On the other hand, teens are very sophisticated today, savvy as consumers and as humans.  They understand that people are trying to sell to them. 

Geneva Anderson: sophistication wrapped in cynicism.

Eric J. Adams: Exactly and the roots of that started with our generation, the war.  We are the first cynical generation of adults but they have learned a new trick–that they can manipulate as much as they are being manipulated.  They are so much more comfortable with the tools of manipulation.  They know how to take a camera out and make a YouTube video.  They know how to do things.

Geneva  Anderson: Let’s talk about Archie, Gabe’s character. The situation at home, his connection with his parents is stressed, which is typical for kids that age.  This has lapsed into a serious disconnect though and when teens are dissatisfied with a connection, they really feel the severity of it.  His awareness is curious.  He seems to think he has seen it all and is ready to pull the plug but, actually, he’s done very little.  He’s a loner who lives a mediated existence through his camera.  He’s really very innocent and bright.  He’s not hardened or into drugs.  He’s a virgin, which is made a huge deal in the film, which further underscores his innocence.  He’s just starting out.


My Suicide's Archie (Gabriel Sunday) is obsessed with the perfect girl, Sierra, played by Brooke Nevin.

My Suicide's Archie (Gabriel Sunday) is obsessed with the perfect girl, Sierra, played by Brooke Nevin.

Eric J. Adams:

Right. We wanted a kid who was on an epic journey and you can’t start a journey necessarily if you are jaded.   The kid, of course had to have potential and everyone does but they don’t see it.  We also did a lot of research on suicide and teen narcissism and one thing we learned was that people who are suicidal are often very ambivalent about their suicide.  We wanted to take an idea that has been romanticized and really put it into play.  That’s why it was so important to us to show that suicide so graphically because if we romanticize it, it remains an ethereal concept.  When you see that kid hanging from the rope, you are sobered and it’s immediate.

Geneva Anderson: The cliché we hear “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” which is delivered first through Sierra Silver really become the film’s mantra.  After Archie reaches out to Sierra, his life has taken on meaning.

Eric J. Adams:  You can’t deliver a message like that on the nose, you see how that works in the film…it is just a cliché.  We chose to work through storytelling channels that would have a better chance of reaching kids.  Teenage years are affected by an incredible amount of narcissism. It’s all about me.  My parents are the worse parents in the world.  I’m the only one who feels this way.  The whole flow of the film is to take this self-absorbed narcissistic kid on a journey that shows him he can grow out of narcissism and grow into maturity and responsibility.  He learns that lesson at the end of the movie–that you can kill the part of yourself that you don’t like, that you don’t have to kill your whole self, that you’re really much better off when you start taking that camera and looking elsewhere, looking at the grace of the world and helping others.  That’s when you can let go of the pain and that’s the lesson he learns through saving Sierra Silver and that’s the lesson for both of those young adults by the end of the film.


Sierra Silver (Brooke Nevin) visits Archie's (Gabriel Sunday) lair for the first time.

Sierra Silver (Brooke Nevin) visits Archie's (Gabriel Sunday) lair for the first time.

Geneva Anderson:  What is Sierra Silver’s role in the film?  Hers is actually is the more authentic trauma—she’s lost her brother, she’s living with a deep family lie and she’s a perfectionist who’s a compulsive cutter.  Next to her, Archie is a poser who flirts with this from behind his camera but she is the real deal.

Eric J. Adams:  Our research revealed two types of kids who kill themselves.  The first is the “I’m mad” kid and the second is the perfect child who hates herself and—this does apply more to girls– has to be the best (has a 3.9 G.P.A. instead of a 4.0), the most popular and perfect in every way.  So Sierra Silver is that other type of suicidal person.  She personifies the shame around suicide and the drive and need to be perfect at all times which is, of course, unobtainable.

Geneva Anderson: Is there any evidence of more suicides occurring in large urban settings?

Eric J. Adams:  No.  The states with the highest rates–Montana, Wyoming, Kansas–are places with the greatest isolation; at the lower end are NY, CA, Mass.   The reason for that is isolation is a huge factor, as is access to guns.  Girls attempt suicide four times as much as boys do but boys are four times more successful.  This is because girls tend to pick pills, cutting–slower methods–so there’s time for intervention and it’s more a call for help.  Boys pick up a gun and it’s over.  If you have a gun in the house with a teenage boy, your risk of suicide skyrockets.  In terms of ago, the largest growing rate of suicides is among kids in the 11 to 14 age range which is horrific.

Geneva Anderson:   In terms of adult characters in the film—from the film teacher, to the therapist, to the psychiatrist, to his parents, to her parents.  You’ve basically laid out several possibilities which he treats as obstacles to get around.   He doesn’t have any authentic connections with adults except the temporary one with the therapist.

Eric J. Adams:  Well, we unabashedly told the story from a teen point of view.  We did not try to be fair or just but shot through the eyes of an extremely upset young man.

Animated Archie goes nuts at the psychiatrist (Joe Mantegna) in My Suicide.

Animated Archie goes nuts at the psychiatrist (Joe Mantegna) in My Suicide.

There’s two times he does connect with adults…we wanted to show that a good mental health professional can be extremely helpful.  You’ll notice right after that scene where he speaks with Joe Mantagna who says “be a kid, it’s not so bad,” Archie thinks it over and invites Sierra Silver to his place and he opens himself up to chance on being a kid.

  The second time you see the connection is near the end with his parents when they confront him in the guest house and tell him “We love you but this is the truth about us and we can’t handle it any more.”  And there’s the scene at the funeral when they finally come together as a family and you know that even though the resolution is thin there, you know they are going to have a new relationship from that moment on.

Geneva Anderson: How much of the film was shot locally?

Eric J. Adams: The documentary stuff where it’s real kids talking back…that’s all done in Petaluma and a lot of it at the Phoenix Theatre. In the beginning when you hear the kids saying they want to learn—shot at the Phoenix.  The kid who says “we know more than they will ever know,” we saw that he had a friend with him who seemed to have a lot to say but never said anything.  So when we shot the film, those two kids became the inspiration for the two kids Earl and Corey—the one who kills himself and the sidekick who says “Do it man, do it….I’ll do it tomorrow.”  The spirit of Petaluma and the Phoenix is throughout the film.

Geneva Anderson:  How do all these other media add or subtract from your job as  screenwriter…what’s the synthesis with Internet, iPhone, so forth?

Eric J. Adams: It’s the new screenwriter’s toolbox and I love it.  Now, when I go and see straight narrative films, it’s hard for me to sit still because it’s just the narrative story…where is the visual creativity?  I believe “My Suicide” is the beginning of the next generation of film because the next generation will be done by kids where media is media and there are no lines drawn.  To them, it’s all the same…they can appropriate anything they want at any time.  Film is visual and you can readily pull things together. 

Geneva Anderson: Actually one of the reviews I read dished your film saying it could just as easily be on the internet, implying that it could have been done on YouTube.  So what?

Eric J. Adams: Exactly.  It’s just like what “Blair Witch Project” did with the consumer camera, where it became part of the plot.  For us, the internet is part of the plot as is media everywhere, which is the way we saw it and the way we tell it and the way we live.

Geneva Anderson: What’s the new distribution deal?

Eric J. Adams:  We’re hoping to engage a three tier structure.  We’ll start with a limited release in the NY, SF, and LA areas and, based on success in those areas, we will move to a wider area, college towns–Boulder, Madison, etc., and the third tier is to go really wide, to Miami and Dallas.  

Geneva Anderson:   Do you have a distributor right now?

Eric J. Adams:  We’re creating a hybrid distribution plan right now.  Now, all our work is toward distribution.  In today’s economic climate where distributors are not picking up film, you create your own distribution company by pulling in P&A (prints and advertising) funds—that was what distributors were always all about.  We’re working on that right now. We’ve hired our marketing team.  This is good.  You own your own copyright and create your own marketing plan as you see fit.  You retain the ability to make money throughout the process.

Geneva Anderson: You also bear all the risk.  Has this made you more realistic and less idealistic?  Are you tainted by the market?

Eric J. Adams: Yes and no.  I am tainted and I am bitten too.  After that first dance, you will keep dancing whether you want or not. This is the greatest and biggest thing I have done and learned as an adult.  To start to build something from scratch…we started with investments at $5K/pop.  I made mistakes but I have learned. 

Geneva Anderson:  With that backdrop, what is your next project?

Eric J. Adams: I have just signed a deal with Halle Berry’s company “Good Shepherd Productions” and her manager Vincent Cirrincione.   The script I wrote is based on a true story in Sonoma County.  The story begins at Pelican Bay State Prison on the Oregon border, the home of the Arian brotherhood and Robert Scully, who was released from prison after 14 years.  He started driving down 101, got stopped by a cop, panicked, shot the cop and killed him and ditched his car, entered a house and took the family hostage. Low and behold, it’s the only black family in the neighborhood.  A true story.  I got the rights, wrote the script and her company has optioned it.

 “My Suicide” (2008)(105 minutes) not rated, would likely be rated R for harsh dialogue, some nudity and sexual scenes: screens 7:30 p.m. McNear’s Mystic Theatre, Friday, September 25, 2009.

September 25, 2009 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

review “Headless Woman” (La mujer sin cabeza) a complex head-tripper from Argentina, San Francisco Film Society, September 18-24, 2009

María Onetto is Verónica in Lucretia Martel's newest film "The Headless Woman"

María Onetto is Verónica in Lucretia Martel's newest film "The Headless Woman"

Somehow, the corpse always surfaces at the most inconvenient moment.  In Lucretia Martel’s newest film “The Headless Woman,” we are given a puzzle—there is a hit and run accident in rural Argentina…but what, or who, was hit isn’t clear.  We are then slowly fed the pieces in scenes that are richly layered with clues but, even then, they do not add up to coherency, rather frustration.  A corpse surfaces–an indigenous child.   The woman driving has lost her head, better said…her memory fails her because it is just too hard to look.  At its core, the film is a metaphor for the country of Argentina and its convenient miasma around the lost generation of those who protested the dictatorship and went missing.  If you block something out, does it mean you didn’t do it?  If you clean up all the evidence, does it mean it didn’t happen at all?   In Martel’s film, issues of class and social responsibility cloud what seem obvious answers to those of us who have an absolutist sense of justice.

 The film is set in the same region of northwestern Argentina, near Salta, as Martel’s previous two films, “La Ciénaga” and “The Holy Girl.”  The movie opens with four indigenous boys and a dog playing in a deep canal that runs along a stretch of isolated rural highway.  A car is heard in the distance and the kids scamper.  Verónica  or “Veró,”(María Onetto), is a put-together 40ish bottle blonde—her hair communicates immediately who she is and what class she is from.  She is driving along in her Mercedes on this rural road and her cell-phone rings and, as she reaches for it, she hits something and is jerked abruptly in her car.  Rattled, she stops the car.  Just when it seems natural to glance back in the mirror to see what she has run over, she instead puts on her dark sunglasses and doesn’t look back at all.  The afternoon glare reveals  two mysterious small hand prints on the driver’s window of her car.   A camera shot to the back reveals a mass in the road, like a big animal or a body.  Veró continues driving and then stops because her car is being pelted by heavy rain.  A big storm is starting to unleash itself. 

 She is next seen in a medical clinic for the poor, getting her head x-rayed and acting very disoriented.  She leaves abruptly when she is identified as the sister of a doctor.  She then proceeds, disconnectedly, to a spartan hotel room where she meets her lover, Juan Manual (Daniel Genoud).  Once at home, after more  disconnected behavior, she tells her husband Marcos (César Bordón) that she thinks she hit something, a dog.  She worries increasingly that it might have been someone, not something, and finally tells Marcos that she thinks she killed someone.  He tries to convince her that, in the heavy storm, it could have been anything.  She says she had the accident before the storm.  Her car is badly dented.  Her lover, Juan Manual, who it turns out is a cousin of her husband, arrives and agrees to use his connections to see if there have been any accidents by the roadside.  He tells them not to worry and receives a report back–no.  

But a week later, as Verónica and family members are driving on the same road, they come upon a crew dredging the canal, which has filled with water from the storm.  A body has been found blocking a pipe and the smell causes them to roll up their windows.   The corpse has surfaced.  At the same time, a buried fountain or pool has been unearthed at the edge of Veró’s garden by her landscaper—a dual metaphor for the pool of blood that once flowed in Argentina, was buried but later unearthed and for what is unfolding in this upperclass family.

As the film moves forward, we become less sure of Veró’s credibility.  Martel keeps the action focused solely on her, so we have no context, no way to sort this out than to study her.  We begin to wonder if it’s an act and she knows exactly what has happened (in the way she keeps her lover separate from her husband) or if she has sommoned her amnesia as a means of  convincing herself that she is not at all connected to what transpired.  

As more time passes,Veró relaxes back into her comfortable life as a dentist and even volunteers to treat impoverished school children with dental problems.  As she councils their parents, we see the huge divide between the classes in this country.  She is respected, has some power, and seems above reproach.  She dyes her hair dark brown, signaling her tacit complicity to try to put what happened as a blonde behind her.   

When she returns back to the hospital to pick up her x-rays, and clean up any trail, there is no record of them having been taken.  When she goes to the hotel, where she met Juan Manuel, she finds there is no record of her having been in the room or at the hotel.   The men in her life have apparently protected her by erasing any evidence of her whereabouts the day of the accident; even the car has been repaired in a distant city, leaving no connection to her. 

 Near the end of the film, two of the boys from the opening scene reappear as assistants to a landscaper that Verónica has hired.  When she learns later that one of the boys did not show up for work and later,  that his body was found, she seems worried.   Has fate brought this boy into her life after she has tried so hard to distance herself from the accident?  To assuage herself, she offers the surviving boy some food, a bath and a bag of used t-shirts to pick-over.

 Nothing is certain in this disturbing film as clues are dropped about a crime that is never solved—all that is made clear is that Verónica is from a family and a social class that has the means to make it all disappear on the surface.  Interestingly, not knowing,  leaves those of us who are compulsive to keep churning over the pieces we have been fed.  Martel said in an interview with Chris Wisniewski  “Like my other films, The Headless Woman doesn’t end in the moment that the lights go up, it ends one or two days later.”  

 Screens Sundance Kabuki Theatre, September 18-24, 2009: 1:45 pm, 4:20 pm, 7:15 pm, 9:25 pm.  Saturday and Sunday matinees at 11:25 am

September 18, 2009 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Late Show Gardens, at Cornerstone Sonoma, leading gardeners and artists tackle climate change and sustainability, September 18-20, 2009

The Late Show Gardens Announcement banner

This weekend I’ll be attending a new type of garden show at Cornerstone Sonoma which says it’s putting issues of climate change, drought, sustainable practices, and renewable resources at the forefront.  I hope so.  Just as “green” is a golden catch-phrase, many garden shows also now use terms like “climate change” and “gobal warming”  to attract  those of us who are concerned about the environment and our planet’s future but then pack their booths with wares that don’t match their message.  “The Late Show Gardens” promises to be something different, something serious, and I’m excited.  The show is the brainchild of Marin residents Robin Parer of Geraniaceae Nursery and Pam Scott, former head of the Marin County Master Gardeners and is thoughtfully planned in early fall, a key planting time for our Mediterranean climate.  More than 15 innovative and socially responsible garden designs by local and internationally renowned designers will be featured as well as a panel of internationally prominent speakers, a few of whom are experts on climate change.  

Among the noted speakers on the three-day program are environmental artist/designer Topher Delaney, ornamental grass wizard John Greenlee and the editor of Pacific Horticulture magazine, Richard Turner.  Appropriately, the show will open on Friday morning with Patricia Glick’s lecture “The Gardener’s Guide to Global Warming: Challenges and Solutions” which will focus on climate change in Northern, CA.  Glick is the National Wildlife Federation’s Senior Global Warming Specialist and has worked on the issue of climate change for nearly 20 years.  Later on Friday, San Francisco-based journalist Mark Hertsgaard, who has covered climate change globally for the past 20 years, and has a reputation as a solid watchdog for global warming policy, will give a talk “Gardening Under Global Warming,” exploring how global warming will alter weather and growing patterns world wide over the coming years.  Hertsgarrd’s most recent piece “Shades of Green” for The Nation explored the Waxman-Markey climate change bill.  

“The Late Show” also promises to entertain us with thought-provoking garden displays that will prod us to consider gardens designed around the use of art, creative landscaping and sound installation—which do not require the use of water.   Peter Munder Good, Liz Einwiller, Adam Greenspan and Sarah Kuehl have collaborated to create “Grow Melt,” billed as a global warming demo–a wall of ice that is 6 feet high, 20 feet long and 10 inches thick that will thaw as “The Late Show” progresses.  We can watch the effects of ice-melting on various plants in the environment they’ve created. 

 Beth Mullins of Growsgreen Landscape Design will exhibit her award winning garden from the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show.  Mullins created “Over Growth” for “The Late Show Gardens” which thematically addresses the need to upset established order and systems before it is too late.   Stephen Glassman, known for his innovative use of bamboo, has created a huge ship, a Noah’s ark?? of sculpted bamboo, that is set back in a revene of wild grasses.

Monica Viarengo calls her garden path, “Black Soil,” a spiritual and moral call that is a reflection on climate.  Black is the color of fossil fuels but it is also the symbol of nobility, ambiguity and secrecy.  Black is actually “achromatic,” being the sum of all colors.

Shirley Alexandra Watt’s “Garden of Mouthings” is a response to declining bee populations, celebrating honey bees as well as the 4000 bee species native to the US, of which 1600 species are found in CA. Watts collaborated with bee expert Jaime Pawelek, CCAC faculty and architect Andrew Kudless and builder Ross Craig to put together an environment that combines a honeycomb structure, a sound installation based on a Sylvia Plath poem, and bee-friendly plants.  

Hugh Livingston is a Oakland-based composer, noted cellist, and garden “soundscape” designer.  He activates environments with innovative sound compositions that soften traffic and background noise and accentuate the natural environment and are delivered through sound generators that are also artworks.  He has teamed with sculptor Philip Livingston, his father, to create “Garden Party.”  Life-size human cut-outs imitate the experience of a garden gala, with a flow of conversation and music.  Visitors will be encouraged to join the party and will be handed parasols with which they can stroll the garden.  And, at this party, the tomato cages will talk!  

It all sounds wonderful and timely, especially the important emphasis on offering real solutions to the issues that threaten our environment.  The press release for the event promises a setting where “world-class minds will come together in one place and present resource-saving ideas helping to improve our impact on the earth.”  

“The Late Show Gardens” is a registered 501 (c) 3 non-profit and the proceeds of the event will be used to support the Trust for Public Land and The Garden Conservancy.  Visitors will also be able to purchase plants and unique items reflecting the show’s theme.

September 17, 2009 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Running Fence at 33″…an extended family gathers round Christo and Jeanne-Claude… we’re all older but the fence lives on

Jeanne-Claude and Christo looking over the map of the Sonoma and Marin county properties that their 1976 Running Fence traversed.  Many of the original properties, working ranches, have been sold or subdivided.

Jeanne-Claude and Christo looking over the map of the Sonoma and Marin county properties that their 1976 Running Fence traversed. Many of the original properties, working ranches, have been sold or subdivided.

“The Running Fence at 33,” turned out to be a folksy get-together yesterday afternoon at Bloomfield Park, reuniting what has become a sprawling extended family of friends and well-wishers in the little community that Christo and Jeanne Claude called home for four years while they battled bureaucrats in Sonoma and Marin counties to get their project approved.  Nearly 100 people showed up—all a bit older than the last time they met and all eager to reminisce about the billowing white canvas fence that has lived on in their hearts and even in the fickle contemporary art world.  German filmmaker Wolfram Hissen who has been here all week shooting a documentary film about the fence had his camera rolling capturing the event.  

German filmmaker Wolfram Hissen was on hand to capture the festivities for his new film "The Running fence at 33" which will open with the Christo exhibition at the Smithsonian in April 2010

German filmmaker Wolfram Hissen was on hand to capture the festivities for his new film "The Running fence at 33" which will open with the Christo exhibition at the Smithsonian in April 2010

“It was a project that changed my life,” said Christo, slipping in and out of nostalgic reflections all afternoon while discussing topics that ranged from the project’s vexing bureaucracy, to how many of the original ranches had survived, to his wild hair.  Jeanne-Claude, with her own signature orange hair (brighter than it was the last time the couple visited), smiled and agreed, “It was really something, something big.”  The couple seemed perfectly content to sign posters and photos, give hugs and look over photo albums, many of them carrying captions that had been made on now-archaic typewriters.  The unspoken truth— like the yellowing pages of those very collectible Christo running fence art books, we’re aging…farmers are starting to pass and many of their dairy and cattle ranches have been split up too.  For that reason, no one seemed to mind that their every move was being documented by Hissen and will likely become footage in his documentary film “The Running Fence, 33 Years Later” that will launch in conjunction with the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s exhibition about the fence in Washington D.C. on April 2, 2010.  

 “The Running Fence” is the biggest work of art that has ever graced the Bay Area—the 24 mile-long 18 foot high steel pole and canvas fence ran from Dillon Beach to Cotati, and was visible from Highway 101.  Done as part of America’s 1976 Bicentennial Celebration, it seems fitting it was conceived of by a Bulgarian-born conceptual artist who had relocated to Paris and then New York.   The project was in place for just two weeks in 1976 but it was four years in the making, transected 59 local ranches and it took a virtual army of volunteers to build, some of whom came from as far as New York to help out.   Many of the locals who agreed to let Christo run his project through their property have passed on, but their children were there to let Christo and Jean-Claude know how the project touched them.  Indeed, over the years, the fence has come to define the small community of farmers who joined with Christo and Jeanne-Claude to fight for art’s right to exist for its own sake. 


Jeanne-Calude greets old friend Rosy Ielmorini.  "The Running Fence" ran through Ielmorini's dairy farm and she has since visited three other Christo projects.

Jeanne-Calude greets old friend Rosy Ielmorini. "The Running Fence" ran through Ielmorini's dairy farm and she has since visited three other Christo projects.

Rosy Ielmorini, now 75, remembers the day she met Christo.  “He drove in one day with Jeanne-Claude, just inside our driveway, and you know how you do when you see a strange face in your yard, you just watch for a little while, so I did that.  Well, he started talking with my husband and I don’t know how it happened but pretty soon he was just around here a lot.  We had dairy you know, ranching and that life, and here was this artist, and my, did he talk.  I didn’t understand all this art stuff at first but I kept soaking it up and I got totally involved.  When it was going up, I was beside myself.”  Jeanne-Claude holds Rosy very dear–“I saw her on the bridge in Paris, at the pink Surrounded Islands, the Umbrellas”—that means so much to us.”

One of the afternoon’s more touching moments came when Susan Nowacki and her sister, Amy Sabourin, daughters of Jean Mickelsen presented Jeanne-Claude with a story their mother had written about the fence.  The fence went through the Mickeslen dairy farm out on Pepper Road.  (The ranch has since been sold to the Camozzi family.)  Jean Mickelson passed away in 2004 but she dictated the story to her caregiver after having a stroke and it was that copy, replete with typos, that was presented to Jeanne-Claude.  Mickelson is legendary in fence lore because it was she who made the oft-quoted apple pie statement—“When there was a lot of hullabaloo in the community about should this fence be allowed or not, mom and dad were very supportive of it,” said Susan Nowacki.  “Mom went before the Board of Supervisors and a lot of people who were saying that a temporary fence isn’t an artwork because it won’t last.  Mom said ‘Well, when I make a really good apple pie, it doesn’t last but people really like it and I think it’s an artwork.  The Board of Supervisors heard that and passed it and that’s how mom became famous.”

Well-wishers gathered at Bloomfield Park to meet Christo and Jeanne-Claude and many saw younger-versions of themselves in the numerous photographs that were posted and circulated at the gathering.

As well-wishers gathered at Bloomfield Park to meet Christo and Jeanne-Claude, many saw younger-versions of themselves in the numerous photographs that were posted and circulated at the gathering.

 Amy Sabourin, Nowacki’s sister, was a student at Petaluma High School at the time (class of 1974)and she recalls her parents hosting Christo and Jean-Claude in their living room for various fence-related meetings.  By the time the project was completed she was in college and saw it while visiting home.  “I thought it was very neat.  I will never forget the way it extended into the ocean.”  The Bloomfield gathering was “a little awkward” for Sabourin because she was there representing her mother who had passed and the finality of her loss really hit home.  The pieces of the fence their family kept were pretty dirty by the time fence came down but cherished.  Her mother made tablecloths out of one section and raffled them off amongst her card-playing friends.  Sobourin used her piece as Christmas tree skirt.

Shirley Handy was living in Petaluma at the time and learned of the project through the unemployment office. 

Shirley Handy, 19 at the time, recalls shifts that started at 3 a.m. and scaling tall poles

Shirley Handy, 19 at the time, recalls shifts that started at 3 a.m. and scaling tall poles

“It was a real job and we worked hard.  Our shift started at 3 a.m. They had to make sure it wasn’t too hot out. They provided everything—food, drinks, potties.”  Handy says that, at first, she approached it as a job but once she learned that a man had come from New York just to work on the project, her attitude changed.  “As the project materialized, I began to see it as art and that was very nice.”  The most memorable aspect of the project was “going up the poles and actually putting the fence up.  You had to have a harness and to know what you were doing.  It was something you never thought you’d do at age 19. .. OR.. when they told us, that we were taking the fence down into the water; that was something that had been kept hush-hush. That was well, very exciting.”    Handy said that she deeply touched when Jeanne-Claude gave her a big kiss and asked how she’d been.


Jeanne Claude, ARThound (Geneva Anderson) and Christo recall the fence which was Anderson's first exposure to a large-scale, environmental art project.  Anderson later worked as journalist in Christo's native Bulgaria.

Jeanne Claude, ARThound (Geneva Anderson) and Christo recall the fence which was Anderson's first exposure to a large-scale, environmental art project. Anderson later worked as journalist in Christo's native Bulgaria.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum purchased the full archives of the Running Fence project from Christo in 2008, about 350 individual items, including 46 hand-drawn preparatory sketches and collages by Christo, as well as the full environmental impact report which is significant because this is the first environmental impact statement ever done for a work of art.  This material was put together by Christo in 1977 as a running fence documentary exhibition that traveled around Europe and the US.  The Smithsonian will exhibit this material as well the 1978 Albert and David Maysles film “Running Fence” and Wolfram Hissan’s new film.  The show is called “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the ‘Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76,’ A Documentation Exhibition” and it opens April 2, 2010, in Washington and will travel nationally. 

 George Gurney, deputy chief curator at the Smithsonian, in charge of the exhibition, was directing traffic and I spoke to him amidst cars moving in and out of the field adjacent to Bloomfield Park.  Gurney has made a few trips to Northern, CA. but he didn’t actually see the fence but he says he understands why Christo chose this spot.  “It’s the topography, such a contrast between the coast and the hills and clumps of trees.  The fence took advantage of the very sculptural nature of the land—kind of surfacing and hiding in that land.  I think the landscape was very deterministic….This project really put him on the map.  He really had to overcome a lot to get it done and you don’t forget that.  It was also a taste of the future in terms of what he could expect.”   Gurney would not discuss how much the Smithsonian paid for the archives but said that it was understood that the Smithsonian would keep the material together and exhibit it nationally.

wellwishers agthered all afternoon at Bloomfield Park for "The Running Fence at 33" a day to reminisce and reconnect with what has become a large extended family

Locals gathered all afternoon Saturday at Bloomfield Park for "The Running Fence at 33," a day to reminisce and reconnect with what has become a large extended family.

The Bloomfield event was not without its own homegrown artworks.  After the project was dismantled, the local ranchers were given all the materials that ran through their property—in some cases that meant several huge 68 foot wide nylon canvas panels and lots of piping.  Mary Ann Bruhn, daughter of Lester Bruhn, who played a tremendous role in initially persuading local farmers to support the project,  helped organize the gathering and was very happy about the turnout.  “This was so important to our family,” said Bruhn.   She brought a tablecloth and a blazer that her mother, Amelia, had sewn from a small portion of just one their running fence panels.  Other farmers told of using the piping for fencing projects and the canvas for windbreaks and tarping.  Bruhn is now a hairdresser in Petaluma and said she never cut Christo’s hair but often thought about it.

September 13, 2009 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Running Fence at 33–Christo and Jeanne-Claude visit Sonoma County September 12, 2009

Christo and Jeanne-Claude Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76, Photo: Wolfgang Voltz @1976 Christo

Christo and Jeanne-Claude Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76, Photo: Wolfgang Voltz @1976 Christo

ARThound is SO happy that Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Running Fence (1972-76), the project that inspired my great love of art and graced our golden hills in 1976 is in the limelight again.  We will have a chance to meet Christo and Jeanne-Claude Saturday, September 12, 2009, when they speak in Bloomfield about their experiences with fence.

 The Running Fence was monumental in all regards–a lyrical white fabric curtain twenty-four and one-half miles long and eighteen feet high that linked Cotati at Highway 101 to the Pacific Ocean at Bodega Bay.  Few stories are more inspirational in the artworld that that of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s struggle to persuade Sonoma and Marin County locals to proceed with this grand project which began in 1972 and was completed on September 10, 1976.  It took forty-two months of collaborative effort, two-hundred and forty thousand yards (over two million square feet) of heavy woven white nylon fabric, ninety miles of steel cable, two thousand and fifty poles embedded three feet into the ground, and fourteen thousand earth anchors.  The de-installation began two weeks after the fence was completed, and all materials were removed entirely from the site and given to local ranchers. This whole experience—the hearings, the media coverage, the building of the fence, seeing the fence several times daily, the post-event sale of pieces of the fence–was a memorable part of my

Christo and Jeanne-Claude Runnng Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California 1972-76, Photo: Jeanne-Claude @1976 Christo

Christo and Jeanne-Claude Runnng Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California 1972-76, Photo: Jeanne-Claude @1976 Christo

childhood.   Christo, at the time, described the project as “a celebration of the landscape” and indeed it was perhaps the first large-scale art project focusing on the natural beauty of rural northern California landscape, a route has since become a famous tourist destination.  It will be a pleasure to welcome back the couple that introduced our unique landscape to the artworld. 

 Among commemorative projects in the works “The Running Fence Revisited Proposal,” a collaboration between the Sonoma County Museum and Wowhaus to publish a book and mount an exhibition exploring all aspects of the fence.   Filmmaker Wolfram Hissen, who did the documentary  “To the German People:  The Wrapped Reichstag”  is also making a film about the Running Fence, out 2010.   

 “The Running Fence at 33” 2 to 5 pm, Saturday, September 12, Bloomfield Park, 6700 Bloomfield Road, between Petaluma and Valley Ford.

September 3, 2009 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments