Director, author, artist and curator Faythe Levine traveled to 15 cities and covered more than 19,000 miles to interview artists, crafters, makers, curators and community members for her feature film debut, Handmade Nation. Below, she shares her thoughts on her amazing journey in creating the documentary, which explores the new wave of art, craft and design.
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft has partnered with Aurora Picture Show, Lawndale Art Center and others to present a free reception and screening of the film at Lawndale Art Center on Saturday, January 22.
The Handmade Nation screening in Houston is the perfect place to start with my story. The plan was to come to Texas for the screening of my film, but as I keep learning, when it rains, it pours. A previously booked trip to Alaska for educational programming was too close for travel to make sense. One of my most challenging lessons in the past few years is realizing I can’t be everywhere at once, and when I try, because I have, it just results in mental and physical exhaustion.
This Texas-Alaska conundrum does a great job of summing up my last two years’ experience with programming. I never expected the audience to be so far and wide for the film, lectures, and now educational workshops. What I have found is that people are excited and interested in learning more about the current state of handmade, and my film is a great launching board for discussion, and, for many, provides inspiration to take the first step in their lives to do something new.
The project itself started in 2006, taking three full years to complete. I was interested in capturing the positive energy the DIY craft community is known for, sharing work, methods and the forward-thinking ethos of those involved with what was going on. The film was shot by my friend and collaborator Micaela O’Herlihy, who traveled with me during the production. I selected featured makers from people I had worked with or was interested in getting to know, traveling to cities where we could multi-task and shoot craft fairs, studio visits and additional footage.
Over the course of the production, a lot happened within the DIY craft community. Print magazines started and folded, Etsy.com was only a year old when we began shooting and quickly changed the way makers could market and sell their work, and social media took over. The ways in which we began to exchange information and share projects and ideas were moving forward faster than most of us even realized.
I treated the documentary like any project I had ever worked on and shared the process by blogging. When we released a clip of the film about a year into production, people outside of the crafting circle started to take notice. A lot of media attention was already being directed at the trend of “crafting,” and Handmade Nation was a way to explain what was going on. By the time the film was released, I had a large following of people waiting to see the film. I am very thankful and still shell shocked from the amount of attention the documentary has received. It may be a surprise to some of you to know that the film was turned down for every major film festival I applied to, so I set out to book screenings in a non-traditional DIY method, which ended up working maybe better than I could have hoped for.
Handmade Nation is still just me. I manage all the emails, booking, press, and marketing and still often travel to screenings and to do educational lectures. The popularity of the film is a true testament to how important craft, making and creating is to our culture. Craft never left and will never go away; we just have the ability to share things much quicker and connect, regardless of our locations, unlike past generations.
As I move forward in my own career as a director and curator, my DIY ethos will stand by my side like it has since I was a 15-year-old punk kid making zines. The idea that there are no rules appealed to me then and is still the reason I promote what I do. The empowerment of craft changes lives, and inspiration is contagious. I am sorry I can’t make it to Houston, especially to see Jenine Bressner’s exhibit, but I’m going to be there in spirit on my way to Alaska to spread some DIY love elsewhere.
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