In the spring of 2010, a Google Alert mentioned a documentary in production about Paolo Soleri that wasn’t A Life’s Work. I was curious and reached out to the filmmaker, Aimee Madsen. We’ve communicated since about each others’ work and supported each others’ efforts the way filmmakers do, or at least should. I’m thrilled that she agreed to answer a few questions about her film, Before Form.
Tell me about your documentary, Before Form.
The actual shooting started about three years ago, with Paolo’s now senior apprentice Roger Tomalty (Associate Producer on this film) literally grabbing me to come document with a borrowed video camera, Paolo carving the silt panels for his first commissioned bridge in Scottsdale, AZ. Since then I’ve shot … well I’ve really lost count, over 200 hours, just from one camera, a total of four different cameras were used. We only have a few pick-up shots to do and maybe a few more intimate interviews. Other then that, we are ready to edit – put the puzzle pieces together.
In a nutshell, this film presents a fresh look at the legendary and multi-talented man Paolo Soleri, known as an artist, craftsman, architect, urban theorist, and finally a visionary, a term he’s not so fond of. Although the philosophy behind Paolo’s work seem to be the driving force in his life, it will focus instead on Soleri as the form giver, rather than Soleri, the idea giver — hence the working title Before Form.
How did you become interested in Paolo Soleri and where did the idea for this documentary originate?
I visited Arcosanti in 1989. It was very mysterious to me back then and I had a strange sense of the possibilities for it becoming something even more amazing. Then in 2007 I had completed my third short film and was out of money. I applied at Cosanti and discovered the connection right away. Through the years working there, I’ve seen many people enter his spaces for the first time and they physically go through a transformation, you can see it. They slow down, not only because they’re in awe but feel connected to something remarkable. It started then, with wanting to know why this happens and I was determined to film it in such a way that would explain this phenomenon that we take for granted.
The idea of the film really took hold when I was filming Paolo carving again, which was a rare opportunity, because this hasn’t happened for many, many years, Paolo being 90 at the time, now almost 93. Seeing Paolo and Roger after five years of not working together, suddenly find themselves side by side again. At first they had to find their rhythm, but after awhile they were smiling and flowing, Paolo was finally doing what he is a master at, carving silt. It was really magical seeing this through the lens and what they accomplished together, it was like a dance. Here, probably for the first time, it was their chance, to tell their story instead of a filmmaker from the outside looking in. They basically could “grab” me anytime they wanted, because I was there on site at Cosanti, most of the time.
I read somewhere that there are a few Soleri-related documentaries currently in various stages of production. Was this a concern before you embarked on the project?
Well, any kind of positive exposure has been good for them over the years, they have always welcomed this. But as a filmmaker, not really before we embarked, but once we started to see how important this was becoming, it started to be a real concern. With the plethora of material out there that has already been created and sometimes regurgitated, the pressure for coming up with something new was felt. It could tend to drive one crazy if you only looked at it this way, when in fact it’s not really the reality at all. Because everyone sees differently, lending their own take on things and there are many ways to tell the story of Paolo Soleri. For example in your film, A Life’s Work, I know you’re taking a completely different approach; it will look different, feel different and most likely have a different targeted audience – and I suspect this will be the case with the other projects currently in production. Basically filmmakers don’t want to copy other filmmakers material, overlapping due to this high profile subject may happen by accident, but not by design. So I have to be very focused on what I want to say and try to say it in a unique way, at the same time I feel compelled to pay attention to what is out there if I can, and be respectful of that. I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries in general and I’m confident that Before Form will lend a fresh look. The big difference being that this is the first in-house documentary, presenting a more candid, intimate look into Soleri and the people that have surrounded him for years and how it’s still relevant today.
What do you hope to do with the finished film?
The DVD’s created will be available for purchase in the Arcosanti and Cosanti galleries in Arizona. I already have one festival interested, so yes it will go through the festival circuit. We will also have an evening screening with Paolo Soleri at Cosanti and TV broadcast is a possibility also.
Before Form is a Kickstarter project. How’s that going?
I wanted to pull the plug the day after I launched it . . . the anxiety was unexpected and very powerful – it’s as if you are running for political office, you feel very vulnerable. But it didn’t last. Now it’s so amazing to me, how generous people can be. How a stranger (for the most part) puts their trust in you and believes in the project. It’s absolutely an incredible high. The down side, yes, there is that “all or nothing” aspect to it. And when it’s dead and there is no activity, your heart sinks. It’s a lot of work to stay on top of it, so you don’t sink. Overall I’m really impressed with Kickstarter, it’s slick, professional and it’s a brilliant idea and seems to really work for so many indie projects that otherwise may not have the opportunity to get funded.
About Aimee: Aimee Madsen is an award-winning editorial photographer whose carefully crafted images have appeared in Arizona Highways, Phoenix Magazine, Native Peoples, Sunset and Outdoor Photographer, to name a few. Areas of study and concentration have been in Photojournalism and Wildlife Photography. In 1999, the prize money Aimee received from Transition Abroad Magazine for her photographs of the Ecuadorian Andes, financed a working adventure in remote areas of Guatemala. Over the years, her work has also taken her on an exploration of the French Pyrenees and a near-death experience in Canyon del Diablo, Mexico.
After studying Cinematography in Arizona, she made the transition into filmmaking in 2005 and formed her independent company Eye Am Films. Since then she has created shorts films, commercials, promo trailers, numerous video vignettes and screenplays. You can support Before Form via Kickstarter.
[crossposted on Extra Criticum]