Editor's note: Ford Gunter quit his full-time journalism job in Houston to make a movie with his childhood buddy/co-director/business partner Carlton Ahrens. This is part six of his account of chasing the dream with Art Car: The Movie.
When the invitation to participate in the Cinema Arts Festival Houston came, my co-director and I were excited to be asked but didn't think much of it. The ego boost only came later, after the City Hall Visitor's Center theater was standing room only for the screenings of segments from Art Car: The Movie, Stitched and Stick 'Em Up.
Like my dog's belly after knocking down 18 tamales over Thanksgiving (husks too), the egos only swelled as the week wore on and we realized that beneath the marquee names of John Turturro, Isabella Rossellini and Shirley MacClaine, the festival was chock-full of badasses from just about every walk of film.
Animator Bill Plympton and documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney, for example. Both gave fascinating talks about their craft, then days later both had projects land on the Academy Awards short list for Best Animated Feature and Best Documentary Feature.
Then there were cousins Brent and Sam Green, who gave a talk with a handful of musicians (including the drummer from Fugazi) about music in film, then performed "live" versions of their latest films, where the narration and the score was performed live in the theater as the film progressed.
At this point the egos were bordering on compete self-adulation. I mean, we were a part of this thing too. Guest Artist passes just like the badasses. Had to drink a lot that week. Also had to take a few weeks to come down before taking a stab at my next column.
And for said column, I thought it time to take a look at the nuts and bolts of this independent film thing, and to do it through my fellow works-in-progress panelists, Jena Moreno and Alex Luster.
What inspired you to make the film?
Jena Moreno: After Katrina and Rita, I noticed thousands of quilters descend on Houston for the annual fall quilt show and was suddenly intrigued by a group of people who were so passionate about their craft that they wouldn't let a couple of hurricanes stand in their way.
Alex Luster: For as long as I can remember, I've been an admirer of visual arts and the ability to tell stories through video. I was introduced to street art through friends in the local graffiti scene. After meeting a few wheat-pasters I was intrigued by the time and effort they put into their work.
My project started off as a couple of short promo videos for a local art gallery. The videos were intended to drum up attendance at openings for local street artists Give Up and DUAL. The two-minute videos profiled the artists and their artwork. I was left with a desire to know more. From there I set forth to create a short film which quickly turned into a feature-length documentary.
What's been the most challenging part about making your first feature?
JM: We have to do everything — marketing on Facebook, editing and booking venues.
AL: Access has been one the toughest of many challenges. First of all, trust is a big thing in this world of illegal street art. Obviously not too many people know who these artists are and they'd like to keep it that way.
Second, most artists don't schedule their 'activities,' so as you can imagine there was a lot of spontaneity involved.
What's been the most rewarding?
JM: I think the most rewarding thing is to discover the film and quilting community. We've made lifelong friends and got to travel to some fun U.S. cities.
AL: I'd have to say the unexpected popularity the project has gained in the past year. Not only here in Houston but around the world. We are very excited to have peaked people's interest but at the same time the pressure to finish is mounting. Good problem to have.
(Note: Alex told me at the Cinema Arts Festival that the success of Exit Through the Gift Shop, the documentary about/by famed street artist Banksy, provided his film an overnight international fan base that has been contacting him steadily about the progress of his film. Gift Shop is also on the Oscar short list for documentaries, despite being widely regarded as at least partly a hoax. Still a kick-ass movie. Kind of have to see it to understand.)
What has surprised you most about the experience so far?
JM: I'm most surprised about how many things we can do on our own thanks to technology.
AL: I knew this was an underground art form, but it's surprising to realize how truly oblivious some people are. Which is something we explore in the film.
What are your plans for distribution, festivals, DVDs and marketing?
JM: We plan to screen Stitched at quilting shows, independent cinemas and other venues. And we plan to sell DVDs online and at these quilt festivals. We also hope to market at foreign quilt shows. We will also enter film festivals in Texas and in the states where our featured quilters live.
AL: We plan to take the film out on a festival tour and also hold screenings across the U.S. and see where that takes us.
Why should the general public see a movie about quilting or wheat-pasting?
JM: I think mainstream viewers will be fascinated to learn about this subculture. Any time you have people who are passionate about their art, I think viewers find it interesting. Most of the people we talk to about Stitched know someone who quilts or own a quilt.
AL: Awareness and the chance to explore and form an opinion of an obscure art form that exists in most cities.
After these films, what's next for you guys?
JM: If we consider this documentary a success, we will probably do another one about mariachis. My father was the singer in a mariachi group.
AL: At the moment, we are focused on finishing the the final edit and gearing up for our Houston viewing in April hosted by Aurora Picture Show.