ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

SFFilm Festival 2019—here are the films to see this weekend

All the way from Kenya! Emmy and Peabody winning filmmakers Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone will be at the San Francisco’s Castro Theater in conversation for Saturday’s screening of their stirring new documentary, The Elephant Queen. The film follows the impact of drought on Athena, a 50-year-old giant husker elephant matriarch and her youngsters who are forced to undertake a perilous migration across the savanna to ensure their survival. No ordinary nature film, this was four years in the making.  Deeble’s intimate cinematography shines a light on the refined intelligence and distinct personalities of these unforgettable animals as well as the interrelationships of various species they co-exist with.  Narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor with extraordinary shots of the elephants and their animal world, this film will resonate on the big screen with a huge audience and engaging conversation about the chain of survival. Photo: Deeble & Stone Productions

SFFilm Festival 2019 has been off and running since April 10.  This extraordinary showcase for cinema, now in its 62nd edition, just keeps getting better and better.  One has to wonder why it’s had such a difficult time with leadership—the latest debacle is the April 1 announcement of executive director Noah Cowan’s resignation after just five years at the helm.  Cowan rebranded the festival from the San Francisco International Film Festival to SFFilm Festival and, under his tenure, festival attendance has grown each year for the past three years according to festival sources.   This year’s festival seems to be running quite smoothly, presenting 163 films and live events from 52 countries in 36 languages with over 200 filmmakers in attendance.  As the festival enters its final weekend, there are plenty of great films to be seen.   Here are ARThound’s recommendations:

 

Friday/Berkeley: Walking on Water

A still from Andrey Panouov’s documentary, Walking on Water of famed installation artist, Christo, at the summer 2016 press opening of his and Jeanne-Claude’s “Floating Piers” project at Italy’s Lake Iseo.  Christo’s first large-scale project since “The Gates” in New York’s Central Park (2005).  Image: SFFilm

There’s something about Christo and his unflinching passion, brilliant wit and stubbornness that has enthralled the world for decades, making any film about this intriguing artist a must-see.   Bulgarian filmmaker Andrey Paounov’s The Floating Piers (2018) chronicles the evolution and realization of Christo and the late Jeanne Claude’s 2016 site-specific work, The Floating Piers, which created a golden path that stretched for two miles across northern Italy’s rustic Lake Iseo.  The idea: let people experience walking on water.  Designed as a gently undulating walkable surface, the artwork was an international sensation.  First conceived of in the 1970’s, the highly-engineered project ultimately consisted of 70,000 square meters of yellow fabric, supported by a modular floating dock system of 226,000 high-density polyethylene cubes.  Christo’s strong personality rises once again to do battle with bureaucracy, corruption, and nature.  Coming seven years after the death of his beloved co-creator and life partner, Jeanne-Claude, Christo, age 81 when the project was completed, has painstakingly regrouped and once again asserted his unique vision in a world of skeptics.  (Screens: 3 p.m., Friday, April 19, BAMPFA)

 

Friday/SF & Sunday/Oakland: Meeting Gorbachev

A still from Werner Herzog and Andre Singer’s documentary, Meeting Gorbachev (2018). Image: SFFilm.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the eight and final president of the Soviet Union, the architect of Perestroika and Glasnost, sits down with iconoclastic filmmaker Werner Herzog to discuss his life and achievements in the fascinating documentary Meeting Gorbachev, co-directed by Werner Herzog and Andre Singer.  As might be expected, it’s an engaging battle of wits as Herzog tries to pierce the Russian’s psyche and Gorbachev emerges resilient, preferring to curate his own story.  Broadening the perspective are interviews with former Polish president Lech Wałęsa, the Bay Area’s George Schultz, and Horst Teltschik, former national security adviser to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl during the reunification period.  Walesa’s shrewd assessment of Gorbachev’s critical errors seem to resonate even more when we hear then live but, most likely, you’ll come away with a sense of Gorbachev’s charisma and leadership skills.  (Screens: 9 p.m., Friday, April 19, Creativity, SF, and 5 p.m., Sunday, April 21, Grand Lake, Oakland)

 

Friday/SF & Saturday/Berkeley: Honeyland

A still from Macedonian co-directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s documentary Honeyland, which won the grand jury award at Sundance. Photo: SFFIlm

Macedonian filmmakers Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s documentary, Honeyland focuses on Hatidze Muratova, the last of Macedonia’s nomadic beekeepers and shines a light on the fragile and deeply poetic relationship between her and her hives.  Hatidze’s harmonious way of life is interrupted when a Turkish family shows up in her remote mountainous stomping grounds and disrespects her sustainable beekeeping practices to turn a quick profit.  Shot by a six person crew who lived beside her for three years, this tender documentary delicately captures a life rarely depicted on screen and sheds light on threats to our environmental balance from an entirely different perspective.  It also features mesmerizing cinematography of rural Macedonia, a land so blessed by the gods that its name and status has been the subject of bitter dispute for centuries. (Screens: 6 p.m., Friday, April 19, Victoria, SF, and 1:30 p.m., Saturday, April 20, BAMPFA, Berkeley)

 

Saturday/ San Francisco: The Elephant Queen

A still from Ralph Deeble and Victoria Stone’s documentary, The Elephant Queen (2018). Image: SFFilm.

Vaguely, we know it happens—the annual migration of animals in Africa.  And we assume that as climate change continues to wreak havoc on weather patterns, the stakes are getting higher and higher for animals in the wild.  Kenya-based filmmakers’ Ralph Deeble and Victoria Stone’s documentary, The Elephant Queen is a miraculous testament to the ingenuity of animals in the face of unprecedented threats from nature and mankind.  It took four years of living alongside elephants in the African savanna to make their film, which tells the story of the life and death struggle of Athena, a 50 year-old giant tusker elephant as she makes critical decisions to help her family survive during a season drought in Kenya.  Filmmakers Ralph Deeble and Victoria Stone in attendance.  (Screens: noon, Saturday, April 20, Castro)

 

Sunday/Oakland:  world premiere, We Believe in Dinosaurs

A still from Clayton Brown and Monica Long’s documentary We Believe in Dinosaurs (2019), about creationism, assembling the contents of Noah’s Ark and America’s perplexing views of science.  Image: SFFilm

Shot over the course of three years, this exceptional doc recounts how the rural community of Williamston, Kentucky, planted firmly in the Bible Belt, supported the creation of a $100 million, 510 foot-long replica of Noah’s Ark, replete with the all the creatures they imagine would have been in the ark.  Their theme park venture, Ark Encounter, was meant to debunk evolution and increase tourism to their community.   Filmmakers Clayton Brown and Monica Long follow the designers and builders of the ark, from the blue prints phase to opening day and present an eye-opening glimpse into all the assumptions and decisions that are made along the way, talking with both proponents and protestors.  Inside the theme park are exhibits showing how the universe is roughly 6,000 years old and how dinosaurs walked with early man.  The assertion is made that dinosaurs were on board Noah’s Ark during the great flood.  Both state and local government got behind the project, questioning the separation of church and state.  Filmmakers Brown and Long will in attendance for what should be a riveting Q & A.  (Screens: 2 p.m., Sunday, April 21 at Grand Lake Theater, Oakland)

 

Sunday/Oakland: Meeting Gorbachev

A still from Werner Herzog and Andre Singer’s documentary, Meeting Gorbachev (2018). Image: SFFilm.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the eight and final president of the Soviet Union, the architect of Perestroika and Glasnost, sits down with iconoclastic filmmaker Werner Herzog to discuss his life and achievements in the fascinating documentary Meeting Gorbachev, co-directed by Werner Herzog and Andre Singer.  As might be expected, it’s an engaging battle of wits as Herzog tries to pierce the Russian’s psyche and Gorbachev emerges resilient, preferring to curate his own story.  Broadening the perspective are interviews with former Polish president Lech Wałęsa, the Bay Area’s George Schultz, and Horst Teltschik, former national security adviser to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl during the reunification period.  (Screens: 5 p.m., Sunday, April 21, Grand Lake, Oakland)

 

Sunday/San Francisco: Official Secrets, Closing Night Film

Keira Knightley in a still from Gavin Hood’s political thriller Official Secrets (2019), SFSFilm Festival’s 2019 Closing Night Film. Image: SFFilm

Keira Knightley stars in Gavin Hood’s exciting thriller Official Secrets (2019) as Katharine Gun, the real-life British intelligence translator-turned-whistleblower who leaked classified documents revealing how the U.S. intended to strong-arm the U.N. Security Council into backing the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.  Outraged by a confidential staff email about coercing small countries to vote for a UN Iraq War resolution, she leaks the email to the British press and, after her identity is revealed, she is charged with treason.  The cast couldn’t be better—Matt Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans.  This promises to be an enthralling real-life thriller that will surely hit Bay Area’s theaters but there’s something extra special about SFFilm’s big nights that makes the experience memorable.  (Screens: 8 p.m., Sunday, April 21, Castro)

Details: The 2019 SFFilm Festival is April 10-23, 2019.  Most films are $16 and big nights, awards, tributes, and special events are priced higher.   Advanced ticket purchase is essential as most of the screenings and events sell out.  For full program information and online ticket purchase, visit sffilm.org.  Plan on arriving 30 minutes before each screening to ensure that you are seated in the theater.

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April 18, 2019 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wolfram Hissen’s “The Running Fence Revisited” screens this weekend at the Sonoma International Film Festival—an emotional portrait of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the fence, and the community that fought over it

In the documentary “The Running Fence Revisited,” Jeanne and Christo reconnect with the community that supported their controversial fence thirty-four years ago. Filming at the Benedetti’s Sonoma County turkey farm: Christo’s nephew Vladimir Javacheff, Best Boy Vincent O’Connell, filmmaker Wolfram Hissen, turkey farmer Walter Benedetti, Jeanne-Claude, and Christo. Photo by Erin Van Rheenen

More than any other filmmaker working with Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Wolfram Hissen has stayed the test of time.  The German filmmaker made his first film about their work 26 years ago and, six films later, he is still going strong.  The Running Fence Revisited, screening on Saturday and Sunday this weekend at the 14th Sonoma International Film Festival celebrates Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s iconic Running Fence, a 24 mile long white fabric fence that ran through Marin and Sonoma Counties for two weeks in 1976 and profoundly changed the way we all think about art.   The documentary contains precious footage of Jeanne-Claude’s last visit to Northern California in the fall of 2009, and provides a riveting snapshot of the intense and highly creative style of communicating the artistic couple employed as well as touching interviews with the farmers and community members who supported and opposed the controversial project.  Christo insists that the “Fence” itself is not the work of art but rather how the fence interacted with the landscape made the art.  It was the trailing nylon ribbon “suddenly underlined and energized by the topography” and how “the people themselves who got into the discussion, for or against” and the immense paper trail—that were all together “Running Fence.”  And this is the amorphous subject that Hissen tackles so admirably in his film that was commissioned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum for their exhibition “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence” (April 2- September 26, 2010).    

The 47 minute film was shot on location in Valley Ford, Bloomfield and along the fence line began near the Old Redwood Highway close to Penngrove, crossed 18 roads and transected 59 ranches as it stretched across the golden hills of West Sonoma County and dropped into the Pacific just over the Marin County line.  It features many quiet scenes of Christo and Jeanne-Claude just walking and talking arm in arm, habituating the viewer to the slow dreamy rhythm of being in nature.  There is no added sound, save from original sound of the fence itself being whipped about by the wind and music from the footage that was made in 1976-77 in the pickup of William Corda and Joe Pozzi.  

Below is an interview Wolfram Hissen and I started in Washington D.C. last April at the film’s global premiere at the Smithsonian and finished at its West Coast premiere last June at the Union Hotel, Occidental, and at the Charles M. Schultz Museum, in Santa Rosa.  Typical of the today’s international filmmaker, Hissen is constantly on the move:  he maintains a home in France and in New York and is juggling several projects at once.  Once a big chunk of the funding seemed fairly certain, he assembled his crew quickly in the fall of 2009–Derek van Rheenen, Ph.D., assistant director, Erin van Rheenen, gopher and author of an eloquent brochure on the film, and best boy Vincent O’Connell.   He shot most of the film during the special Bloomfield celebration with Christo and Jeanne-Claude (September 2009) celebrating the fence at 33.  (see ARThound, September 13, 2009  “The Running Fence at 33…an extended Family Gathers Round Christo and Jeanne-Claude”  and September 3, 2009 “The Running Fence at 33..Christo and Jeanne Claude Visit Sonoma County.”   

The interview has been edited so that the time frames discussed are relative to 2011.

Geneva Anderson: How did you first get involved with Christo and what inspired you to do this film?

Wolfram Hissen:  Christo made a huge impression on me when I was young.  I am a German citizen, was born in Köln, but was raised in Portland, Oregon, and New York.  In the late 1960’s, our family returned to Heidelberg, Germany and I found that a very strange planet indeed.  My parents were originally from East Germany and so that was another layer.  We were travelling in both East and West Germany and, to me, everything seemed forbidden.  My brother and I were very American and missing everything.  I was about 8 years old and in Heidelberg, the America House had been wrapped by Christo in 1969 (America House Wrapped).  I never forgot that, that someone came to Germany who had the power and freedom to wrap a building and that really totally surprised me. 

Also, my family is very interested in film-making.  My grandfather was a co-inventor of the magnetic tape and always had cameras and recording stuff around.  From about the age of 10 on, I was always wondering what direction I would take.  In art school, I saw the Maysles brothers film “Running Fence” and I remembered the Heildeberg project.   The “Running Fence,” for me, was one of the most important artworks made in the second half on the century.  When I saw that film, I said, one day I am either going to make art like that or film like that.   So this is a magic moment.  It’s 30 odd years after I saw that film. I had decided to make films like that.  I found myself making a film about it and now I am showing it.

GA:  How many films have you done with Christo and Jeanne-Claude?

Wolfram Hissen:  We’ve been working together for about 25 years and this was our 6th film. The “Running Fence” project was relatively fast…it took them 4 years to get approval but with the “Wrapped Reichstag” or “Gates,” it took them over 20 years to achieve those projects.   They always had something to work on if one project was blocked.  We adapted that with our filmmaking too, and I’ve worked off and on since 2008 on the fence film.

My main films are: 1995, Project for the Würth Museum, Künzelsau, Germany. (The floors and stairways of the small private Würth Museum were wrapped and the windows were covered.)

1996, Christo und Jeanne-Claude, Dem Deutsche Volke, Verhüllter Reichstag 1971-95, (alternative title: To the German People: Wrapped Reichstag 1971-1995) , Wolfram and Jörg Daniel Hissen, Est-West, 98 minutes.

1997-98, Wrapped Trees, Foundation Beyler, Berower Park, Riehen, Switzerland, (The wrapping of 178 trees at the Bayerle Foundation in Switzerland.), Wolfram and Jörg Daniel Hissen, EstWest, 26 minutes.

2005 Christo and Jeanne-Claude, On the Way to Over The River, Wolfram and Jörg Daniel Hissen, EstWest, 34 minutes.

2008  Along US 50 “Over The River” in progress, Wolfram and Jörg Daniel Hissen, EstWest, 89 minutes.

2010  The Running Fence Revisited, EstWest 47 minutes.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California 1972-76 Segments 1, 2B, and 3A, September 10 – 20, 1976, ©Christo Photograph by Gianfranco Gorgoni

 GA: Did you see actually see “The Running Fence”?

Wolfram Hissen:  I did not see the fence.  I was raised in Oregon though and am very familiar with the West Coast.  My assistant director, Derek Van Rheenen, who I have been friends with since we were babies, is also from here.  He’s a professor at UC Berkeley and we’ve collaborated on several films.  I am also quite familiar with the mentality.  To me, being European, I kind of look at CA like an independent country, very different from the rest of the states.  You could say it’s like Belgium and France or Austria and Germany which are European but quite distinct.   Actually, there’s nothing like California.  

 GA:  How did the idea for the film about “The Running Fence” come about?

Wolfram Hissen: Since 1994, we’ve been filming for the “Over the River” project even though the project hasn’t happened yet.   About 4 years ago, Christo and Jeanne-Claude asked me to make a film out of that footage and I said I’d gave it a try.  It went well and that film was shown at the Phillips Collection here in Washington, D.C. for the “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Over the River, a Work in Progress” (October 11, 2008-January 25, 2009).  There were a couple of people there from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, including curator George Gurney, and he liked it.   They invited me over to discuss making a film about the Running Fence.  I had already been to the region in 2005 or 2006 because of the next project that Christo planned, for the span of fabric over the Arkansas River in Colorado.  I came to see where they did the Running Fence because that project is very much like putting the Running Fence horizontally over the river. 

When I walked into that little post office in Valley Ford, I was so surprised…this was a beautiful post office… and like a shrine to Christo and the fence.  I told myself, one day I am going to a film and this is going to be a part of it.

GA: What exactly is it about Christo and Jeanne-Claude that keeps you making films about them?

Wolfram Hissen:  There’s such a great spirit in them and aspects that I myself share with them—being independent and valuing freedom, liberty.  Also, I believe strongly, like them, that you do not always need to do things that make sense.  If all our lives were about things that made sense, then what would we have.  I also like the temporal aspect– these are ephemeral projects.  And then both of them are just incredible people.  I like being together with them…it’s been 25 years now.  Aside from my parents, there is no one I‘ve learned more from.  I respect them deeply.  They are a brilliant creative team and they work hard all the time, never satisfied and saying ‘it’s good enough.’  For them, every detail is debated over and over. 

The thing that also works very well with us is that Jeanne-Claude was of French origin and I am of German origin but I was raised in the U.S., but for most of my adult life, I’ve lived in France.  I do keep a place in Brooklyn but most of my life I’ve gone back and forth between those cultures.  I really enjoy and get people who have this diverse cultural background and who live this life nomadic life.  You don’t have to explain much—you get each other.   Christo and Jeanne-Claude are people who do not judge that fast, who have openness and experience. They got along with those American ranchers and they knew how to make themselves and their ideas understood.  In each language and each culture, you address this somewhat differently and they are great masters at that.  They had nothing to do with Japan but got along fine, same thing with Germany.  They fit.  That’s such an important part of their art—how to make people understand what you want and what you are planning. 

In the film, Leo Ielmorini says “They knew how to speak to a dumb farmer and to a supervisor.”   It’s not true that Christo and Jeanne–Claude thought they were dumb farmers…far from it.  No, they knew that were talking to someone with different experience and ways of getting things done and they knew how to reach him.  

 GA: Given that the Maysles brothers film “Running Fence” , from 1978,  has been so successful and important, did you want to do something different to distinguish yourself?  Was that a factor for you?

Wolfram Hissen:  No, not at all.  That is a beautiful film, certainly one of the best documentary films I have seen in my life and it influenced my own life.  I saw it when I was a teenager and I thought it was beautiful and something I’d like to do myself.  But with today’s filmmaking and situation, everything has changed, and it doesn’t really make sense to compare to them or to find things the two films have in common.  What we might have in common, Albert and I, (his brother David Maysles died in 1987) is that we are both psychologists and it’s helpful to be a psychologist when you are a filmmaker and to really enjoy people.  The people in CA are really wonderful, unique, and I must say, it’s fun to work with them.  Every day, when I went out– sometimes with the team—and spent time with the ranchers, I really enjoyed it.  I had nothing to worry about and I felt like I knew these people.

GA:  What was your goal for the film then, and how did Jeanne Claude’s death impact the editing?

Wolfram Hissen: When you make this kind of film, you speak to people in a very direct and private way.  On one level, it’s something fun but it’s also profound…this film has been speaking about actually pop art that happened in the 1970’s so we’re looking at a whole generation since then.  I wanted it to be emotional and beautiful.

This was tough project, not that I am complaining, but when Jeanne-Claude also died, the film really became a different project…it became more about her influence and at the same time, it had to remain about the fence and tell that story.  We were talking about things that were temporary and eternal with the overlay of her passing.  She herself expressed this concept very well in words in the film.  It was challenging but I found I had all the material I needed.

GA:  Speaking of material, it seems to me, like it could easily be 90 minutes or more.  How was the length determined and, within that constraint, how did you decide what to leave in and take out?

Wolfram Hissen:  Budget and how much time I could spend with it.  This film really went far with the budget it had.  Initially, the planning with the Smithsonian was to make a film that was 20-25 minutes.  When I did my first research trip to the area, I knew there was so much that I could easily do a 90 minute film.  When I showed the first cut in Washington, D.C., a couple of months before the exhibition opened, the film was 30 minutes long.   I felt there was so much missing, that I needed to tell more, to show more.    

As it stands, I spent twice as much time as I had planned and the film is twice as long and also in the beginning there was a different approach.  I was always a little afraid that something would happen and I didn’t want this film to become another story.  And then, when Jeanne-Claude passed away, that added again a dimension that we hadn’t thought about before.  For instance, the footage in the beginning of the film– those aerial views–they were taken on November 18, 2009, that’s the exact day that she died in New York.  These shots were really taken that day and they are beautiful and everyone agrees they are breathtaking.  I was informed the next day that she ha died but some thoughts ran through my mind about what it all meant.   

GA:  It’s a tender homage, showing her energy and passion.  In the film, you were dealing some people who were older.  Did you have any troubles from that perspective, with their memory and so forth?   They come off as having the wisdom of ages and being very coherent.

Wolfram Hissen:  Well, sometimes they would start to say something fascinating and I was like this is great, keep going …but they would forget what they were talking about and just stop.  But basically it went very well.   I was so fascinated by what they were saying, their intelligence about life.

GA:  You decided to forego adding sound.  How important is sound in this film? 

Wolfram Hissen:  Most of filmmaking is in aesthetic decision.  The main music in the film is actually the artwork of Christo and Jeanne-Claude and there is ambient sound.  This world is so loud we really wanted to invite people to look closely at that footage and listen to what the people have to say. 

In 1991, Derek (Van Rheenen) and I went to Bakersfield and also to Japan to film “The Umbrellas” project and we asked Christo how he chooses the exact spots where he put those umbrellas.  He said, ‘How do you write a symphony?’  The art itself is also musical, lyrical.  If you look at the fence, as Bill LeBaron says in the film, it was in the landscape, it was all movement, ripple.   We decided to focus on the original sound, so the music in the film is the original music from the footage that was made in 1976-77 in the pickup of William Corda and Joe Pozzi and that’s it.  

The Running Fence Revisited film crew: Best Boy Vincent O’Connell, filmmaker Wolfram Hissen, Best Boy and Gopher, Erin Van Rheenen and co-Director Derek Van Rheenen. Photo: Geneva Anderson

GA: What was it like to interview the sculptor Mary Fuller McChesney, who along with her husband, Robert McChesney, vehemently opposed the fence?  She seems entrenched in her attitude about Christo and Jeanne-Claude to this day.  

Wolfram Hissen:  That is ok.  I respect totally that people should be able to have their opinions.  I thought for the film it would be important to have the opposition interviewed.  I also interviewed Mr. Kortum, a Sonoma County Supervisor at the time, who is by now quite old.  And it was difficult to understand always what he was saying but he made his point.  I think from Mrs. McChesney you understand very well why they opposed the fence– because they did not want to be a part of this art– which is fine.  The other reason to be opposed was for the environment, and those claims came from Kortum.  We found out from certain ranchers, like Leo Ielmorini, that this wasn’t a big issue at all.  And time has shown that well too–nothing came of the claims that were made about Christo and Jeanne-Claude or the damage that the fence would cause.

GA:  You captured the common sense of the farmers very well, especially with Leo’s lines about birds not flying into the fence at night. 

Wolfram Hissen:  I especially loved his old-American language, which you don’t hear anymore.  He says Christo and Jeanne-Claude “were smarter than the average bear.”  That’s Yogi Bear.   What kids today know who that is?   Or, he says, “They’ve been around the horn once or twice,” which is a typical expression of immigrants 150 years ago, I mean before the Panama Canal, because you had to go around the horn, which was the southernmost point of South America.  I just love that.   

It is also part of American culture to create or to play with words, like the term “sue happy,” “everyone is sue happy.”   This came up when I was talking about the probably of getting these permissions from all the individual farmers today.  I had never heard that before and I really enjoyed just listening to the farmers talk.  And Roz, in that tiny post office, was wonderful.    

I wanted to make an emotional beautiful film, which to me is like a roller coaster that takes you with it.  In the beginning, it’s just beautiful and then you meet these people and they take you some place with them.   They are funny and you are laughing and forget the world and you just enjoy, taking it in, but then there’s this moment where they’re talking about getting older, aging, saying my father passed away, this person passed away, and that was so important to put in the film.  That’s what I mean by emotional beautiful because all emotions are there—a lot of people at the end of film are crying…and the last words of Jeanne Claude, those words about what they are doing and the temporary aspect of it, are chilling and beautiful.

GA:  What are you doing right now?

Wolfram Hissen:  I am making a film about the American landscape artist Stephen Hannock.  It’s a film about modern landscape painting which is experiencing a revival and the musician Sting, who is a friend of Hannock and a big supporter of his work, is involved.  I’m also working on a series about the West Coast for a German-French art station with my brother.  We also just completed a film on the eruption of Mt. St. Helens that was shown on Nova.   We always have different projects we are working on.  Our films usually take quite a while.  

The Running Fence Revisited, 2010, 47 minutes.  Team: Directors: Wolfram Hissen, Derek Van Rheenen, Best Boy: Vincent O’Connell, Erin Van Rheenen, Gopher: Erin Van Rheenen

 Screens at The 14th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival: Saturday, April 9, 2011,  6:00 p.m., Sonoma Valley Museum of Art and Sunday, April 10, 2011, 6:45 p.m., Woman’s Club)   Festival Details: www.sonomafilmfest.org

April 7, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

film event– the Premiere that means the most…Wolfram Hissen will show “The Running Fence Revisited” to Sonoma County June 23-25, 2010

German filmmaker Wolfram Hissen shooting footage for "The Running Fence Revisited" in September 2009 in Valley Ford at a celebratory gathering with Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

Filmmaker Wolfram Hissen of est-West films  will screen his new documentary film “The Running Fence Revisited” in Sonoma County this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.   The 47 minute documentary, shot almost exclusively in Sonoma and Marin Counties recounts the events and personalites that shaped Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s iconic Running Fence project in 1976.   The film premiered in April in Washington D.C. at the opening of the exhibition “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence,”  at the Smithsonian American Museum of Art. 

The farmers and people near and dear to the project are planning to attend Wednesday evening’s Union Hotel reception and screening.  Following each screening, Hissen will discuss his film and take audience questions.  The screenings are hosted by the Sonoma County Museum and the Charles M. Schulz Museum, and sponsored by the Friends of the Running Fence, the Union Hotel, and the Sonoma County Tourism Board.   

  • Wednesday, June 23 at the Union Hotel in Occidental – SOLD OUT!
  • Thursday, June 24 at the Charles M. Schulz Museum theater – SOLD OUT!
  • Friday, June 25 at the Charles M. Schulz Museum theater – SOLD OUT!

All screenings are currently sold out, but you may call 707.579.1500 be added to the Waiting List.

All shows start at 7:15pm with a small reception prior, starting at 6:30 pm.

June 22, 2010 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Artist Jeanne-Claude has died suddenly. She lived a full life. May she now wrap Heaven in shimmering fabrics

Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebone, wife and artistic partner of Christo, died suddenly Wednesday, November 19, 2009, in Manhattan, where she had lived with Christo since 1964.  A statement on the couple’s website said that she died of a ruptured brain aneurysm.  She was 74.  I met her several times throughout the years and found her both enchanting and frank–hallmarks of a strong woman.  The last time we met was in mid-September at “The Running Fence at 33” gathering,  when she and Christo spent the afternoon in Valley Ford reminiscing with old friends about “The Running Fence,” which graced our California coastline 33 years earlier.  German filmmaker Wolfram Hissen was there shooting a documentary film about the fence and George Gurney, deputy chief curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum was also there preparing for “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76, A Documentation Exhibition,” which opens April 2, 2010, in Washington and will travel nationally.  

Looking back at that lovely event, I am thankful that I had the chance to greet her again and that she was able to visit with friends who were part of her formative years.  She said several times that afternoon that she felt as if she had “come home.”   When I wrote about the gathering, my headline pointed to what was coming “..we’re all older but the fence lives on..”  Many of the farmers who had given the young couple permission to put the fence up on their property had passed away and most of the people at the gathering were well over 50.  Talking about the fence took us all back to our youthful days.   Jeanne-Claude was happy and spoke excitedly about their new project “Over the River, Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado.”    which had suffered the standard bureaucratic and funding snafus that accompany these immense temporal  projects.  Her red-orange hair—reminiscent of the cotton candy hair of a clown– seemed brighter than it had ever been before.  She signed autographs and poured over pictures and maps.  She spoke graciously with strangers and lovingly with dear friends.  And, like a little girl, she snuck a cigarette with an old friend and told us not to photograph her smoking because she didn’t want to be seen promoting something that was unhealthy.     

Jeanne-Claude and Christo in younger days (image by Fred Modarrah)

I have always been fascinated by artist couples who manage to pull it off—a loving marriage, a creative partnership and fame.  Their collaborative approach, which I had heard them describe a few times in the 1990’s, always left me hungering for more information.  It was described as follows–Christo and Jeanne-Claude would come up with an idea and he would prepare drawings, scale models and descriptive items that could be sold to realize the full-scale project.  She was a driving force in other ways, particularly with financial affairs, permitting and when the project was going up on site– The only problem with this explanation was that it seemed to contradict an earlier history of sole attribution to Christo that had been in practice from the 1960’s through the 1980’s.

Around the time the Wrapped Reichstag project (1971-95) was nearing its completion– about 1994—Christo and Jeanne-Claude began to insist on retroactive joint attribution of all artworks from the 1960’s onwards that had previously been attributed to Christo.   They essentially re-branded themselves.  Before, they asserted they had been “Christo” and now they were instead “Christo and Jeanne-Claude.”     The problem I see in that is that it does not answer when or how she began to think of herself an as artist and it clashes with earlier comments Christo made about his artistic process.  In my mind, a large part of making art is declarative–asserting that what you are doing is art when you are doing it.  It is less powerful when it comes 30 years after the fact.  

Christo and Jeanne-Claude (image by Wolfgang Volz)

So in the 1990’s, it was asserted frequently that she and he shared equally in the creative process.  At other times during this period, Christo spoke of himself as the artist, the one who had absolute control over all the decisions.  There are quotes to back-up competing interpretations.   Their website has a section called “Common Errors” which explains it this way: “In 1994 they decided to officially change the artist name Christo into: the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. They have been working together since their first outdoor temporary work: “Dockside Packages, Cologne Harbor, 1961.” Because Christo was already an artist when they met in 1958 in Paris, and Jeanne-Claude was not an artist then, they have decided that their name will be ” Christo and Jeanne-Claude”, NOT Jeanne-Claude and Christo.” 

Nice dodge.  I would have loved to have spoken with them about the topic of authorship, though I suspect the conversation would not have been an easy one.  I suspect the truth is that they struggled with this and reached some negotiated decision and then set it aside and got back to work, which they seemed to thrive on.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude met in Paris, France, in November, 1958—Christo Javachef, a native Bulgarian from Gabrovo, was a young impoverished refugee artist, who had recognized artistic talent and had already wrapped a few things.  She was born in Casablanca, Morocco, where her father, Major Léon Denat was in the French military.  Her mother, Précilda, divorced Denat after Jeanne-Claude’s birth and remarried three times.  During WWII, Jeanne-Claude lived with her father’s family while her mother fought in the French Resistance.  In 1946, Précilda married the influential General Jacques de Guillebon and the family led a priviledged life in Berne from 1948 to 1951, then in Tunisia from 1952 to 1957.  In 1957 they returned to Paris and lived in comfort.  Jeanne-Claude earned a baccalaureate in Latin and philosophy in 1952 from the University of Tunis. 

Jeanne-Claude met Christo in Paris in 1958 while she–a young debutant– was enagaged to be married and he was painting a portrait of her mother.  It is well-known that Christo invited her to his place to see his real artwork—sculptural pieces which were a series of wrapped found objects—and that she thought he was crazy but she was hooked.  She became pregnant by Christo but married her fiance, an older man, and then divorced him immediately and took up with Christo, delivering their child Cyril in 1960.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

The couple not only share the same birthday but the same time of birth on June 13, 1935. They emigrated to New York from Paris in 1964 and worked together for over 40  years creating temporary artistic interventions involving covering, wrapping or altering landscapes.  Iconic best describes their impact.  Many people I have spoken with have mentioned a sense of the spiritual and others see it as a kind of architectural humor.    Whatever the reaction, is it deep and memorable–no one walks away from one of their installations without being stirred.  Their projects have been immortalized in six films by filmmaker Albert Maysles, whose first film “Christo’s Valley Curtain” was nominated for an oscar.   German filmmaker Wolfram Hissen also paid homage to the couple with his 1996 film “To the German People: The Wrapped Reichstag.” 

 My favorites of their 18 realized projects  are “ Running Fence” (1972-74),  “Pont Neuf Wrapped” (Paris, 1975-85) and  “Wrapped Reichstag”  (Berlin, 1971-1995)—all of which required years of planning and lengthy campaigns to obtain the necessary permits.  In September, Jeanne-Claude, with a mixture of pride and weariness, reminisced about the tenacity these bureaucratic interfaces required, particularly “The Running Fence” which was one of their earliest big projects.  I think it is fair to say that everyone in attendance at the event was proud that Christo and Jeanne-Claude had cut their teeth for these projects here on our home turf.   And, what a battle it was– they perservered and, in the end, created the most lyrical outdoor intervention ever.

 While the couple were long-term residents of New York, “The Gates” (1979-2005) was the only project they succeeded in installing in New York City, in Central Park.  They signed a 43 page contract with the city of New York before they could install the 7,503 orange fabric panels of varying heights that graced Central Park for 16 days.

The couple’s website is the best place to read about their work.   Whatever they have declared about the change from “Christo” to “Christo and Jeanne-Claude”, the institutions that house the artworks done by Christo’s hand have not followed suit with retroactive joint attribution.  That may or may not be important to Christo, who survives his wife and, according to their website, plans to continue on creating in both their names.    

SFMOMA has a number of photos and drawings by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in their collection with attribution solely to Christo Javacheff.  Images of “The Running Fence” dominate their Christo holdings and were accessioned in 1977, a year after the project was realized.  None of these are currently on display.  The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) has 22 of Christo’s drawings, attributed solely to Christo (Christo Javacheff).  Ditto for the Smithsonian American Art Museum which in 2008 acquired the complete documentation of “The Running Fence.”  The title of the exhibition does credit Jeanne-Claude—“Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering the Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76, A Documentation Exhibition.” 

Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s artworks are temporary and immortal, living on in our dreams long after they have been taken down.   As a new cycle now begins for Jeanne-Claude that is even richer than her time here on earth, may she smile as she wraps heaven in shimmering fabrics.

November 20, 2009 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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