DESERT VISIONS NOAH PURIFOY AT JOSHUA TREE A Documentary by Hannah Collins Produced by Véronique Bernard Logline African American sculptor Noah Purifoy’s work about social, cultural and political change in the second half of the twentieth century comes to life at his magical desert site as surviving cultural activists re-live this radical era surrounded by the incredible structures he built from the detritus of our throw away society. Brief synopsis Noah Purifoy was an amazing character - an African American from a poor rural family born in Alabama, he made the move to Los Angeles to become a sculptor, educator and activist. He took part in the changes that swept the West Coast during the 1960's and became an assemblage artist as a result of the 1965 Watts Riots, when he spearheaded a seminal group exhibition out of the ashes and debris of the riots, Junk Art: 66 Signs of Neon, which led to a body of work using art as a tool for social change. He went on to create an extraordinary collection of sculptural works stretching across the desert over 7 1/2 acres at 29 Palms where he lived in a trailer for 12 years before he died. Purifoy's work is the subject of this film and he is the main character. The film explores and explains the site at Joshua Tree where Purifoy created his masterwork. This large desert site is filled with evocative assemblages of found detritus on an architectural scale. The whole site interacts with the landscape; simultaneously each element stands alone and in a relationship to others, often a reminder of a place both typical and particular. A rodeo stand is created from fragile sticks too flimsy to hold a human, a small adobe house is made from plaster, a railroad made from spare bicycle wheels and boiler parts winds away towards a mine, the ultimate symbol of human toil, beside it a rural graveyard made from found timber is evocative of Purifoy's roots - spread across the site the elements make up a poetic world centered on the traumatic and positive cultural, social and political changes that Purifoy was a powerful part of. Through the site we become aware of wide historical social issues and the poetic sensibility that interacted with the desert to create this work using a lifetime of experience. The sculpture is a critique of unsustainable society made from redundant, pre-existing objects. The film is structured around the appearance of surviving cultural thinkers, artists and activists amongst the sculptures. From people who worked on Blaxploitation films to writers from the Watts Towers Arts Center and early Black Panther militants – people who witnessed the often violent but inspiring changes taking place will come to the site. Whilst some may be major figures others may have had a more observational role - a sound recordist from a film, a writer from the Watts workshop who reads a story, a dancer who moves amongst the sculptures and explores the space. These figures will illuminate both the site and its references and ask the question - how is it possible to frame and question society and to move forward?
Purifoy's work is a series of demonstrated understandings of the position humans find themselves in Western society at the beginning of the 21st Century. His vision was of the inhumane subsurface of contemporary society's preoccupation with material possessions. The sculptures themselves are beginning to disintegrate and return to nature. This film will preserve the site and its context whilst raising questions about specific periods of change and resolution.
Storytelling style The film is both poetic and narrative. The story of Purifoy's creations and his legacy is told through the desert site at Joshua Tree. The visual narrative focuses on the sculptural site, its texture, space and light as the works interact with the environment, each other and the people we bring there. The present tense characters at the site provide context, history and immediacy and drive the content narrative. The film is a dialogue between these two narratives. The work spreads across the desert and transforms as the light changes. Purifoy lived in a trailer here, left as it was the day he died, and his awareness of desert as a natural phenomenon is a key element in the film. His intentions will be reflected in the sculptures themselves. Example: Rural and city life inter-mesh in an elevated yard sale; a bedstead, vase and toy are abandoned against a wall whilst nearby a rural church tower appears buried in the sand; beyond a desert graveyard marks three empty places. Participants in social and cultural change during Purifoy's lifetime propel the story and structure of the film. We will find 6-10 different people to appear in the film. Example: Powerful stories from the Watts Writers Workshop echo the way the city felt in 1965 - a poem may be read in one of the structures at nightfall. The progression of the narrative is marked by these interventions, sometimes including synch sound, sometimes using the audio over their silent presence. The soundtrack will be natural sounds of the elements and the participantsâ€™ contributions, and may include music and archives of Purifoy and/or significant events in his lifetime. The desert has a long and powerful visual history on film, as a place where one might go mad and nature is pitted against human (The Misfits), a location for encounter (Zabriskie Point) or rediscovery (Paris, Texas). We will reference past cinematic desert moments through the soundtrack and the way Purifoyâ€™s contemporaries interact with his work.
Audience The strategic audience for this project is already being built by museums and curators interested in historical, cultural and political changes that took place during the second half of the 20th century and are continuing into the 21st. Specific curators involved in the project - Franklin Sirmans of LACMA, Glenn Phillips at Getty and Suzanne Lacy at Otis College - have connections to institutions who will lend visibility to the film once produced. LACMA is working on a Purifoy retrospective which this could form a part of. The Getty is interested in the project and are keen to build on the momentum already gained by Pacific Standard Time (a major exhibition of post-war LA art). Purifoy's work is of interest to a wide educational audience from those engaged in political change through to art students who are looking at ecological, race and historical issues. In the film Purifoy's work will be presented in juxtaposition to historically important figures thus creating a document vital to understanding a number of issues - immigration to Los Angeles and other centers from the South, rural and urban life for African Americans during the 1950's through to 2000, how art developed in relation to social change during the 1960's, how art can engage with nature directly - amongst others. Because of the nature of Purifoyâ€™s work, this will be an in depth study of an artist's work directly in relation to the historical and the social. Many films about artists struggle to represent the work on screen because the work is flat and isolated in gallery space and needs to be seen to be appreciated; the work here is engaged with its own environment, with the desert itself, as a comment on society. The Noah Purifoy Foundation, which looks after the site, will be another natural means to disseminate the film and its issues to visitors to the physical site as well as online. Aside from a festival and educational circuit there is an opportunity to create a forum around the issues raised, which could take place through new media or in film screenings that place the film within a context of other films -in relation to the desert, to land-art, to social documentaries, to films about artists' work. Another way to increase audience engagement will be through groups and organizations involved in racial equality, social, cultural and environmental sustainability and urban renewal. Part of the research phase will be seeking out appropriate partners for educational and public outreach. Because the film is in early stages of development and nothing has been shot yet it has had little exposure. However a number of art institutions are interested in seeing the film made and helping to distribute it based on our description. These include: LACMA, The Hammer Museum, Otis College, REDCAT and the Getty Museum. (See Fundraising Strategy.) Hannah Collinsâ€™ work has a built in international audience in the world of art documentaries and photography but we are keen to expose the film and its ideas to a wider public. We have not yet discussed the film with international funders, broadcasters or distributors and will wait to have a sample reel to do so. Project stage The film is currently in its research and development phase.
Hannah Collins has met with Franklin Sirmans, a writer and curator interested in Purifoy's vision and work who is planning a retrospective of Purifoyâ€™s work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2014. She has visited the site and done extensive research on-line and through conversations via skype. She will now spend a period of time visiting and interviewing the possible participants in the film. She will also shoot video footage whilst doing the research. This will be roughly assembled to help form the narrative that will drive the film and to show to possible funders. As it is vitally important to find the right people able to explore the issues raised and express the essential elements, she will meet with a wide range of people. We are anticipating her spending one well prepared month throughout California. The range of those she will interview is wide - from newspaper writers, those associated with the Black Panthers, contemporary artists, those who took part in the Watts Towers workshops, and those who worked on notable films amongst others. We have talked with various California entities such as Redcat and Otis College and we will assemble a support team during this time. Simultaneously, we will fundraise for production. We anticipate one year fundraising and six months production, finishing the film to coincide with the exhibition at LACMA. Whilst the timescale is flexible we would like to have the film finished by Fall 2014.
Access Hannah has been in conversation with curators and educators about the way Purifoy's work is being reconsidered and revalued. Glenn Phillips from the Getty Museum and Franklin Sirmans from LACMA are supporters of the film and have offered to open doors to potential participants. Individual filmmakers, activists and educators we have been talking to are enthusiastic to support the film. And people associated with Noah Purifoyâ€™s legacy, the black power movement and political art have been very positive about giving us access to resources. We also have access to the site at 29 Palms. The people we want to interview are now very old (people who worked on Blaxploitation films as camera-people, sound recordists, actors, those who surrounded the Black Panthers, those who took part in the writers workshops as young people). This film needs to be done whilst they are still alive and able to come to the site - it is one of the many reasons to make the film now. We do not know yet who will end up in the film but many people would like to see Purifoy's work become more visible and that will help recruit willing contributors and drive the project forward. We have a lot of contacts that will lead us to our characters and we are confident that we will find the ones we are looking for. A full list of potential characters is available. Bios
DIRECTOR: HANNAH COLLINS (shown on location at left) Hannah Collins is an internationally renowned artist and filmmaker. Her work engages with social and historical issues at an everyday level. She has had numerous international exhibitions, published multiple books and made four films. She has also taught at UC Davis and the Royal College of Art London. Her films include La Mina (a film on 5 screens made with gypsies on the outskirts of Barcelona) 36mins, La Mina 2001-2008 (an update on the situation of the gypsy community)15 mins, Current History (about post Soviet life in a village in Central Russia) 60 mins, and Solitude and Company (Algerians recently moved to France recount their dreams in an abandoned factory) 60 mins. Her work is in many important collections including Tate Modern, UK, Pompidou Centre, France and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Her recent book about the origins of specific food, The Fragile Feast, created with world-renowned chef Ferran Adria was published in 2012. PRODUCER: VERONIQUE BERNARD (shown on location below) Véronique Bernard is a producer, director, development and production executive of non-fiction television. Extensive experience as a producer/director and executive producer of documentaries includes Marina Tsvetayeva, a drama-doc about the Russian poet, Mururoa, a groundbreaking doc about the French nuclear testing site, and many cultural programs. She was head of production at SBS TV in Australia. In the U.S. she was a producer and a development executive at WNET, Sundance Channel, New York Times Television, National Geographic Television and ABC News Productions, creating programs for PBS, Discovery, and Nat Geo. She was senior producer for E2, a PBS series on sustainable development for which she won a Grantham Prize for Excellence in Environmental Journalism Award of Merit. Her latest film is a French co-production about American photographer Duane Michals, The Man Who Invented Himself. She is an educator in film and TV production, on the board of Global Action Project, a youth media and social justice organization, and president/executive producer of Iliad Entertainment in New York City. Work Samples (on request) 1. PARIS: VÉLO LIBERTÉ (Produced by Véronique Bernard) A film about the Paris bike sharing program Vélib’, which examines the transformation of the city when 20,000 bicycles are introduced and the effect it has on the people’s relationship to the city. One of a six-part series on sustainable transportation in a three-year PBS series about sustainable development called e2: The economies of Being Environmentally Conscious narrated by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. 2. DUANE MICHALS: THE MAN WHO INVENTED HIMSELF (Co-produced by Véronique Bernard) A one-hour television version of a feature documentary about the American photographer Duane Michals who revolutionized the art form and paved the way for a new generation by introducing filmic sequences and constructed reality. The film traces his life and work in a non-chronological narrative that uses fantasy and the creation of new work as well as conversations between Michals and his subjects, his muses and himself. Made for French television. 3. LA MINA 2001-2008 (Directed by Hannah Collins)
In 2001 Hannah Collins and her crew shot fourteen hours of 35mm footage in a large housing area in the city of Barcelona that is home to a substantial gypsy community. The resulting film moves between observational documentary and a more collaborative, performative approach. Several of the people depicted are acting, but they are portraying themselves. While certain moments are planned and staged, others are spontaneous happenings caught on film. La Mina defies any single viewpoint. In this respect it resists the fixed and narrow depictions of contemporary gypsy life. Instead Collins builds a complex, intricate, rhythmic film organized around repeated motifs and the symbolism of city space itself. Far removed from the conventions of mainstream documentary film, La Mina presents the viewer with a seductive puzzle that is at once social, aesthetic, political and ethical. (David Campany, Art and Photography) Other Hannah Collins films available on request. Budget (on request) A development budget of $5,500 is the minimum we need to complete the research phase of the film and is based on four weeks in California spent by Hannah to meet, shoot and engage with the potential characters we will include in the film. $5,500 is the bare bones hard costs budget to proceed with the trip. It does not include our own work as director and producer to produce the deliverables we need for the next phase, nor any of the filming and editing equipment, which we will access from industry colleagues and supporters. An additional $2,500 may be required if we cannot get the editing in kind, donated or deferred, for total development costs of $8,000. The importance of securing the funds to undertake this R&D trip as soon as possible is that if any of the major potential participants pass away before we can begin filming in a year or so (many of the important radicals from the sixties are in their 80’s now), we will have their contribution on tape and could use the audio in the final film. The film’s production budget of $210,000 is just a guide at this stage and based on the following assumptions: 4 weeks shoot 8 weeks post 1 week finishing This could obviously change but the total budget seems in line with the kind of film we are making. Funding Status and Strategy To date no funding has been raised for the film. We are seeking development funds to complete the research, shoot our potential characters and put together a sample reel for fundraising. We will also write a treatment. Hannah always works from a detailed script. Armed with treatment and reel, we will approach foundations, broadcasters and private funders such as the Ford Foundation, NEA, PBS, Ovation, Arte, the Getty and other museums and collectors. We will cast a wide net as Purifoy’s work interacts with a number of different spheres of interest where advocates can be found: the arts, African American politics, social history and the environment. We are planning a year from completion of development materials to raise the full budget. Hannah’s experience and visibility in the art world coupled with Veronique’s track record in television and documentary will give us a solid ground base. We envision 30% of the budget to come from foundations, 30% from broadcasters, 30% from private donors and 10% from crowd funding. Purifoy’s legacy as an African American political artist engaged in social change forms an important part of our collective history. We firmly believe that we will find sponsors, investors and benefactors to preserve his contribution for posterity.
Published on Sep 4, 2013