The documentaries concern two quite different people: a young Midlothian woman who devoted her life to cultural exchange and education between the United States and Japan, and whose journey a year ago took her into the disastrous earthquake and tsunami in Japan; and a poet from Selma, Calif., whose wandering journey led him to live and teach here, and whose love of language and the color, form and texture of words drove him to make vibrant, muscular poems.
Besides their relation to the Richmond region, the other connection between them is that both films-in-production are utilizing the Kickstarter fundraising site to complete major production efforts.
Live Your Dream: The Taylor Anderson Story is getting made by New Yorker Regge Life, whose past work deals with identity and the American and outsider experience in Japan. Taylor dedicated herself to teaching Japanese children, right up to the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.
Anderson became one of two known U.S. victims of the earthquake and tsunami, part of the estimated 15,854 people who died and the more than 3,100 missing. Following the quake, she comforted her students at Mangokuura Elementary School and assisted in their evacuation to the school athletic field. There, she waited for their parents to pick up their children. Then she turned her bicycle homeward shortly before the tsunami hit.
Life set his Kickstarter goal at $18,000. If pledges fall short of that amount by April 21, at 3:30 p.m., no money changes hands. This Kickstarter rule protects both creators and contributors.
Life is interested in people creating their identity out of disparate parts. His past documentaries deal with the blurring boundaries of race and culture: Struggle and Success: The African American Experience in Japan; Doubles: Japan and America's Intercultural Children; and After America . . . After Japan. The films received national broadcast in Japan and America.
Taylor Anderson, a graduate of St. Catherine's School and Randolph-Macon College, had spent two and a half years in Ishinomaki teaching English as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET). Life had recently wrapped Reason to Hope, a film about the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when he learned of Anderson’s story via the Internet.
“I’d met JET teachers in the course of my previous film work,” he’s said elsewhere, “so I knew the dedication and the hard work that goes into being an assistant English teacher, but there was something special about Taylor’s story that touched me. A passion and zest for the people of Ishinomaki where she was based, that not all teachers feel while in Japan. I began to seek a way to reach out to Taylor’s family and share my interest. I am so humbled to have their consent to tell Taylor’s story.”
The money will help Life shoot remaining interviews in the U.S. and Japan, edit the film, compose original music, build an interactive website and distribute the film to educational institutions in the U.S. and Japan.
Poet and filmmaker Michele Poulos was not long ago a Virginia Commonwealth University adjunct instructor. Now a graduate teaching assistant at Arizona State University, she's working toward her second MFA, this one in poetry. She's also in the midst of production for My Story in a Late Style of Fire, a documentary about the life and work of Larry Levis.
Poulos’ project is, as of this afternoon on Kickstarter, $19 over its stated goal of $12,000, with less than 70 hours remaining. "We're thrilled, the last big donation that pushed us over came from the Bowers Writers House at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. Up until that point, it was smaller amounts, $5 to $10 from students. Felt really encouraging to see [the] community come together."
Levis taught at VCU until his 1996 death, at age 49, of a heart attack. His influence on a generation of poets and writers resonates throughout Richmond and beyond.
One of the biggest challenges as a filmmaker is sharing poetry that is created in isolation and enjoyed intimately. "His words are gorgeous and visually stunning," Poulos says. "I'm fortuante to have as director of photography Kevin Gallagher, and we want to make the film splendid as his language. We're really tring to get it away from being a talking-heads piece." Writers and poets will read Levis' words alongside visual accompaniment. "I've looked at artists' work, " says Poulos, who hasn't chosen anybody yet. "I'm contemplating impressionistic visuals."
Poulos has shot more than half of the Levis film, including interviews with Charles Wright, David Wojahn and Kathleen Graber, and this summer she’ll record numerous other interviews, including one with U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine.
Wojahn speaks of Levis’ work possessing “the sense of how the ghosts and phantoms and demons — that aren’t actually out there in a Syfy channel way — but those things that seem to populate and haunt us. They have to be addressed, we have to talk to them. How could we be human if we didn’t?”