Shorts on Sundays: Sign Painters

Series Two Continues with an Exploration of an American Creative Tradition

Meet the vanguards peppering the urban spaces and grand vistas of America with colorful typography in this atmospheric short film Sign Painters, a special edit of a feature-length documentary shot by Sam Macon and Faythe Levine. The filmmakers journeyed across different states including Los Angeles, New York City, Seattle and Minnesota, zooming in on the lost and found art of hand-lettered sign painting and the enriching impact the artists have on public spaces. Featuring emerging creatives and more experienced artists with over five years crafting experience, Levine and Macon met such characters as the mustachioed Mike Meyer from Minnesota, Seattle’s Sean Barton who is both a sign and fine artist and the next generation of enthusiastic painters, including Marjory Garrison from Echo Park, Los Angeles. “The first move we made was to travel to the Pacific Northwest and meet a couple of painters,” explains Macon of the film’s beginnings in 2010, before the project evolved into a book with a foreword from Ed Ruscha, himself a former sign maker. “Not only were there a lot of working sign painters out there, there’s a tendency towards them being wonderful storytellers.”

What was the catalyst for the documentary?
Sam Macon:
Faythe had a group of friends she’d met in Minneapolis who had started an informal apprenticeship with an established sign painter named Phil Vandervaart. The group of guys had all gone on to become working sign painters in various cities across the US with one of them in Stockholm. Being interested in lettering, process and public space, we decided to dive in.

What was the most inspiring element of the filmmaking process?
SM: Initially, I was a bit skeptical that we’d be able to find enough content to carry a feature length film but Faythe knew better. My skepticism was almost immediately blown to pieces as soon as we announced the project.

Did the generational differences between the artists surprise you?

SM: I think the biggest difference between the old and young guard has a lot to do with the market place, then the individuals. The game has changed. There are fewer and fewer venues to really learn the trade, the unions are less prevalent, and the work is often harder to come by thanks to chain sign stores and cheap alternatives. But what surprised us was the amount of admiration and mutual enthusiasm that crossed the generational divide. Much of the younger crowd truly respects the old timers, while a lot of the older painters seem to be really energized by the up-and-comers.

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  • MORE IN THIS SERIES
    MORE IN THIS SERIES

    Shorts on Sundays: Atelier Persol Part One

    The First Installment of Chiara Clemente’s Documentary on Persol Eyewear’s Recent Creative Retreat

    “As a child we lived at my father’s studio and I was surrounded by portraits,” says filmmaker Chiara Clemente, daughter of Naples-born painter Francesco Clemente and director of this intimate look at Atelier Persol, the artist-in-residence group project in Florence, Italy that carries on our new Shorts on Sundays season. “Growing up around very strong visuals definitely influenced the way I look at things and the aesthetic I’m drawn to.” The film features eight artists, one for each day it takes to make a pair of Persol glasses, carrying on where last year’s collaboration 8 Days of Persol left off. Clemente’s work often discusses her subject’s story and here captures the week-long creation, completion and presentation of new pieces by Vanina Sorrenti, Kolkoz, Sebastien Tellier, Robert Montgomery, Futura, Fabio Novembre, Random International and Mathilde Monnier. “I try to let people go back to a memory, to have a sense of looking back,” says Clemente of her interview process which often forms the backbone of her films, as seen in her first documentary feature Our City Dreams that told the story of five female artists living and working in New York, including Marina Abramović,. “I’m truly curious; I get such a thrill from having conversations. It helps to be instinctive.”

    Atelier Persol Part Two premieres on NOWNESS on November 3.

    (Read More)
  • SEASON ONE
    SEASON ONE

    Shorts on Sundays: Waterpark

    Our New Open Call For Experimental Films Launches With Evan Prosofsky's Directorial Debut

    Artificial waves crash and swimsuit-clad patrons frolic in the strange suburban utopia of World Waterpark in Alberta, Canada, in cinematographer Evan Prosofsky’s first directorial effort, launching an open call for submissions to our new Shorts on Sundays series via the NOWNESS Vimeo channel. The aquatic playground cast as the uncanny protagonist in Waterpark is located inside the West Edmonton Mall, North America’s largest shopping destination. “I never seemed to adjust to the absurdity,” says the director of shooting in his hometown’s famous fantasyland. “Even as a kid, I just couldn’t believe we had flamingos, submarines, roller coasters, and pirate ships in our mall.” The increasingly sought-after cinematographer became known as the lensman behind several of last year’s most shared music videos, including Grimes’ “Oblivion,” Bat for Lashes’ “All Your Gold” and Grizzly Bear’s “Yet Again.” Sound features prominently in Waterpark, too, with the soundtrack composed by Prosofsky’s friend Alex Zhang Hungtai, aka Dirty Beaches, infusing the innocent family environment with a seductive, contemplative undertone. “[Evan] told me of his experience there as a child,” says the Taiwanese-born Canadian musician of the effort. “That helped me understand his perspective, and I liked how neutral and non-judgmental it was.” Shot over a span of three years, the labor of love hints at the anxiety that lays dormant behind an otherwise glossy North American leisure culture. “Once I was in there,” Prosofsky recalls of shooting in plain view. “No one paid me the slightest bit of attention.” We asked Emily Kai Bock to share her thoughts on her collaborator's uncommon vision and process.

    Waterpark is an early glimpse into the way Evan has structured his life around the craft of cinematography—being a typical teen working at the West Edmonton mall, but using his money and time off to go to the expense of documenting the space for hours on 16mm. It's rare to find that kind of devotion and love for the craft with a cinematographer. I've led him into many situations on several videos where his equipment could have been confiscated or ruined by the conditions. When we were shooting Grizzly Bear's "Yet Again" I remember watching him as he read the manual for a HydroFlex underwater housing before dropping it into a swimming pool with his own 35mm camera inside. The camera was safe, but it demonstrated that getting the shot was more valuable to him then his own equipment. His knowledge has provided an unwavering buoyancy through our sink-or-swim shoots. 

    Visit the NOWNESS Vimeo page for more information on how to submit to our Shorts on Sundays open call.

    (Read More)

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