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Handmade Nation documents the new wave of art, craft and design that is capturing the attention of the nation. It is the feature film debut of director, author, artist & curator Faythe Levine. Levine traveled to 15 cities and covered more than 19,000 miles to interview artists, crafters, makers, curators and community members. Today's craft world has emerged as a synthesis of historical technique, punk culture, and the DIY ethos, also influenced by traditional handiwork, modern aesthetics, politics, feminism and art. Director Faythe Levine captured the tightly knit community that exists through websites, blogs, and online stores that connect to the greater public through independent boutiques, galleries and craft fairs. Interviews were conducted on-location in artist studios, homes, boutiques, offices and craft fairs, giving the public an exclusive and rarely seen look into the lives of these creative individuals.
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Top Customer Reviews
The very word "craft" is difficult to design. If someone makes a sock-puppet by gluing on some felt eyes and lips to a sock...is that craft? (Or is it junk?) Is a person who makes their own glass beads, often taking 2 hours for one bead, making a craft? When does craft become art? When is a craftsperson really an artisan? When are the really an ARTIST? When does a craftsperson go from hobbyist to business-person? When does a craft have value...is it when someone is willing to pay for it?
This documentary jumps from one craftsperson to another, all around the country. We peek in on what they make, WHY they make it, and get some inkling of how they sell (or try to sell) their wares. We meet some folks who are clearly kooks...and others who have learned to become savvy businesspeople. Some work alone...others in groups of likeminded individuals. Some of the work in remarkably beautiful...some is mundane. (Each viewer will, of course, differ on which is which). We also meet some of the entrepreneurs who make a living FROM these craftspersons...whether as retail store owners or web site & fulfillment persons.
Most of the folks who are shown here articulate the idea that their work is in reaction to the "standardization" of America. (I'm sure you've noticed it too...every city you drive through has the same restaurants, shops, malls, etc. We are consumers of what we know, and have difficulty trying "new" things.) These craftspersons feel they are part of a nationwide movement to bring originality, design, craft, individuality back to America. They hope to replace the things we buy from Wal-Mart with things we buy at a local crafts market. Others also tout the "Green" value of what they do...they are reusing or repurposing discarded items.
If I sound a mite cynical...I am. I would argue that entrepreneurial craftspeople have been with us forever. That there is no sudden movement or trend. The trend has been in the marketing we now have available through the internet. It's not that people are driven to craft beautiful and useful things...but that they can sell them worldwide. The movie certainly shows that...everyone has a web site. To me, that's the revolution that's happening. A free market has given these off-beat folks the tools to make a living. They can justify with all the politics they want...but behind their earnest words, a different (and still quite valid) reality lies.
But jumping off the political soapbox, HANDMADE NATION is a charming movie in almost all other respects. We meet (often too briefly) some enormously talented people and some VERY diverse personalities. We see crafts of all sorts being made. The movie made my family and I want to go out and buy stuff right then! It's like all these shows on the Travel and Food networks that let us behind the scenes of great restaurants and make us drool. Except we drool for items made of felt, glass, tin, old fabric, etc. I took great heart from the film, because it showed these folks as part of a greater society that was quite comfortable with their quirks and ambitions. While America is not quite a HANDMADE nation...we are a nation quite happy to provide fertile ground for the creative entrepreneur. Unlike so many "artists" I have known...these folks don't feel entitled to be granted a living by their work. They realize that they need to EARN a market, to CAPTURE an audience. And they set about it with a zeal that just makes you feel good. I genuinely liked almost everyone we met in the film. It was like spending 65 minutes with a bunch of nice folks you'd never meet otherwise.
The film itself has a handmade quality. Shot, I presume, on only modest quality camcorders...it is simply edited, modestly filmed and uninspired but unobtrusive. No one is likely to win an award for this film...but it DOES fulfill its own mission of shedding light on the world of people who make crafts for a living. The best compliment I can give it is that when it's brief running time concluded, I felt cheated because I wanted a great deal more time in this world, with these people.
I saw the film at a small "art" theater in Albuquerque on a Monday late afternoon. It ran for two days, I think. It will not be easy to find the film...but if you can snag it on DVD, and if the subject matter sounds at all interesting...I think you'll enjoy it.
Handmade Nation lacks is a sense of perspective, or positioning inside the history of crafts. People have been recycling clothing for generations - in the past, they just called it "making it so your older brother's pants fit you right" instead of thrifting-and-crafting. Is the "indie craft" movement special simply because it is not grounded in necessity? And, craft has a place in the academy - You can get a university degree in studio craft - what does that mean for this movement? Is it "indie craft" simply because you didn't have to go to school for it (even though many of the featured artists have art or fine craft degrees)? And what about all of the "craftsmen" out there, in carpentry or glassblowing or whatever else - is it only "indie craft" if they also are the designers and distributors? And if so, why? I was especially bemused by the focus on the "anti-commercial" slant, when most of these artists are at least to some degree reliant on "big business" to make their internet run and to make sure the planes carrying their packages don't crash. Why not a more thoughtful focus on the place that these smaller companies have in the economic cycle?
All in all, I thought it was an interesting subject, but the treatment simply documented it without adding substance.
I loved it, the interviews, watching people work, the craft fairs it was all great. It could have gone on for several more hours and I would have loved it, but unfortunately it's only a bit longer than an hour so that was a little bit disappointing. I know there are tons of other people that could have fit perfectly into this documentary. I'm going to take a guess by the amount of time that was taken to create this that the director could have kept going on as well. I would love to see a secondary documentary from her on the same subject.
For me it provided a lot of inspiration and also resources mentioned by the people being interviewed. There is screenprinting, glass work, shop owners (brick and mortar stores and online), knitting, and embroidery among others.
There was one odd moment when one of the people being interviewed staples her finger and walks around looking for a band-aid, it stuck out for me as being un-needed but overall I would highly suggest this documentary!
I saw this documentary at a screening in Philadelphia this August and have been waiting for it's release onto DVD. It is very exciting to see the craft movement getting so much attention.
As an artist and crafter, it is easy to feel isolated when you are not surrounded by other creative people; and websites like etsy, while invaluable, can only take you so far. This documentary is a wonderful way to get a glimpse into the lives of creative entrepreneurs without all of the travel expenses. Faythe Levine has done this for us (on her own dime).
For other craft documentaries, try Craft in America, Season 1 AND Craft in America: Season Two.
For great interviews with crafty entrepreneurs, check out these podcasts: