A Journey Into European Puppetry

Roadblock to a Documentary


Nicolas Géal and the Toone Marionette Theatre in Brussels Belgium

Time for a little disheartening news. After my long journey to Europe this year to gather more interviews I find myself at a serious temporary roadblock. It’s not the first it won’t be the last. But this time it’s particularly frustrating since I’m much closer to the finish line than I’ve ever been before. I can see it ahead. But that pesky old devil, money, stands in the way.


Zon Zons in Lyon France

What happened? Well I heard from the Swiss folks that the Swiss funding sources liked the idea of a puppet documentary but would rather have it focused on one person or troupe trying to accomplish “something”. Now this is precisely what I haven’t wanted to do. The whole point of Gravity From Above has been to introduce people to puppetry by showing what it is through a cornucopia of European sources. There is no way a documentary about one person, group, stop motion animator, etc. can show the spectrum. And it is the spectrum of puppetry that most folks need to see. Now I’ve let the Swiss producers know that I will certainly help get this smaller idea accomplished as per our agreement. But I’ve also let them know that this isn’t Gravity From Above, which remains as a title and a concept fully in my control. So we’ll see.


The Brothers Quay get the Joke in London, England

The way I look at it, a documentary about one puppet troupe, while certainly a noble idea in the abstract, is like a documentary about Field Marshall Rommel, when nobody knows anything about World War II. I’m sure it would be fascinating, but what’s this larger war they keep alluding to? What’s that about? That sounds even more intriguing. Well there is no World At War for puppetry? There is no serious introduction to the breadth and depth of the subject. And THAT has always been my goal. Europe was my focus because it was compact. A documentary on Švankmajer, Toone Marionette Theatre, Buchty a Loutky, the Brothers Quay, Josef Krofta, etc are all quite worthy subjects. But I’m interested in what holds all of their work together. So I’m left with no choice but to go back a couple of paces and try to find another source of financing. I’m now looking at whatever I might do in relationship to my Swiss contract as a gun for hire. But I need to make Gravity From Above.


Interviewing Gela Kandelaki in Tbilisi, Georgia

So what needs to happen next? First of all I need to find either a producer or financial backer who gets what I’ve been trying to do for the last ten years. Someone who will either comprehend the project enough to go to bat for me, or someone who will invest enough money to allow me hire the film crew to shoot the performances, to edit, to pay for film rights and commission the music. That’s still a sizable chunk. And I’m not releasing anything until I can get this done as it should be.


Beatrice Starewitch and François Martin outside of Paris, France

The problem with the film industry at any moment is that they get stuck on one model of how things should be done and won’t consider other ways. At the moment the only way to make a documentary is to focus on “someone” trying to accomplish “something”. With the drama being squeezed out of whether they succeed or not. Now good documentaries have been done in this mode. But to say that’s the only way to do a documentary is purest unrefined bullshit. Off the top of my head I can think of dozens of documentaries made in other ways. Some are pure research (Children Underground about Romanian street kids), or biographies (the list is endless here) or about a subject (Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers, Les Blanc’s film about garlic) or about genres (only think of Martin Scorsese’s documentaries about film) or historical eras (does the name Ken Burns ring a bell).


Daniel Streble’s 1872 copy of a Guignol Parodie de Faust in Lyon

Well Gravity From About is a documentary about European puppetry. Too big a subject? That’s what I’m told. Well it’s an introduction to the meaning of puppetry with enough examples from European puppetry and interviews to make the point. It’s exactly the documentary that I want to see. And I suspect I’m not alone. That’s what my readers here and fellow puppeteers want to see. That’s what people have been supporting.


Inside the Studio of Buchty a Loutky in Prague, Czech Republic

So I’m asking you folks, whether puppeteers, filmmakers or interested readers, to see if you know anyone who can help get Gravity From Above finished. The interviews are pretty much done. Now I need a very small film crew and backing. Do you know producer who can help finish this thing? If you do get in touch. If you have any ideas get write me. Though I started this on my own, and 99% of the financing thus far has come from my own shallow pockets, I can’t finish it on my own. The two things I need right now are a producer who will believe in this project and backing or a backer or two. (Crowdfunding isn’t going to be an option again for quite a few years. See my older posts on that.)


French Puppeteer Paulette Caron in Lyon

Well I had an amazing journey last winter and spring. And I know that I will finish this, hopefully soon. Thanks to all of you have followed me on my journeys. And especially those who have dug a little deeper in one way or another. I do have a PayPal button here. Think about that. But more than anything help me to find the people I need to bring Gravity From Above to fruition.


With Dimitri Jageneau &  and Biserka Assenova at Peruchet in Brussels

From a pleasant sunny autumn day in Alaska
With gratitude and courage

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska


2 responses

  1. Hi Byrne,
    Thinking about funding sources for your film project, I have these suggestions. (In case you haven’t already explored these possibilities.)
    1. Research any and all grants that may be applicable to your project. There are many people involved in puppetry in the US, and I imagine that some may be particularly interested in your project from a cultural and educational standpoint. Even big donors, like foundations that fund arts and culture projects would be worth checking into.
    2. What about the folklore and folk culture route? Again, there are societies, associations and foundations that may be interested in supporting this project from that angle, both in the US and also in Europe.
    3. Independent filmmakers associations and the like may be another avenue to explore with your proposal. Check all the websites that produce independent film festivals across the US, and find out their resource lists, then approach the ones that seem most likely to be interested.
    4. Here are some puppetry links I have found, who may be able to help point you in the direction of possible funders. http://www.sagecraft.com/puppetry/schools/index.html#scholarships
    http://www.theoneill.org/summer-conferences (this org deals with theatre mainly, including a national puppet conference each summer. Perhaps you know some of these folks?)

    Even though the process of grantwriting can be long and arduous, it may be a valuable use of your time this winter. If you already have a proposal written, you can then tweak it for the various ones to which you apply. It seems to me that you have a very worthy project, and that people in the world of puppetry and folklife who have some money would be very interested in helping you create your film. Best of luck to you. I enjoy following your blog and enjoyed arm-chair traveling across Europe with you this spring.
    Blessings, Leigh Jardine

    September 20, 2016 at 7:07 AM

  2. Thanks Leigh. A lot of good suggestions here. I have written grant proposals before. But I’m going to dive into the process again. One of the issues I often face here is that the subject is European but Americans tend to want American subjects. And then in Europe they don’t quite get an American in the job. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t support. It’s a bit like dominoes I have to find the one that knocks the rest over.

    Furthermore I need to get back as soon as possible since I made promises that I would, and this is already the second time I have since 2012. So my main question is how to fulfill my obligations to the puppeteers before another five years passes. So keep thinking with me. And thanks for following the journey so far. I’m sure Gravity From Above will continue.

    September 20, 2016 at 10:14 AM

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