Filmmaker Brent Green @ Ragtag on Thursday, 8/12

One of the most distinctive filmmakers of our time, Brent Green, will be at Ragtag LIVE AND IN PERSON Thursday night with his latest, Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then. Gravity is his first full-length stop-motion film. It tells the story of Leonard Wood, a hardware store clerk who quits his job to build a house specially adapted to heal his wife (Mary) from cancer.

"Based on the true story of Leonard Wood, a hardware store clerk from Louisville, Ky., who worked tirelessly throughout the 1970s to create a healing machine to save his wife, Mary, from her terminal cancer, Brent Green’s Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then creates a surreal yet real world where hope lives. It opened The Second Program on Thursday night.

At the surface, Gravity looks like a love story; it’s about Leonard (Michael McGinley) and Mary (Donna K) and their relationship, but I balk at titling it so simply. It’s more of a life story. It’s about the sacrifice that both of them made for each other’s well being (however misguided that was), and the journey that Green and his cast and crew went on re-creating the story.

Just as Leonard and Mary could not exist without each other, and the house could not have been built without their love, Gravity could not exist without them. Leonard, Green says, was building up toward God, trying to spark a miracle, and Green is doing the same with this film. He took the idea of stop-motion animation and created a feature-length film that mixes the narrative filmmaking process with the poetry of animation, allowing him to juxtapose the heartbreak of death with the humor of a first date and discuss topics from God and faith to electricity bills and love.

The rapid-fire images combined with stop-motion animation create embellishments that complimented the narrative and eventually became the center of the story. The use of black frames between the flurry of images helps to cleanse the mind and give a moment of reflection on what was just shown and said. It helped to add value to the images presented and was representative of what the mind goes through when dealing with tragedy. Sometimes we just shut down, and sometimes we can’t turn our thoughts off.

Leonard continued building the house to remember Mary until his untimely death, and Green picks up where he left off, creating a piece of art that lets us remember him and the love that can exist in this world. If this is what true love is, then we should all hope that we are lucky enough to find our own Leonard Wood.

During an iChat with the director (who lives in rural Pennsylvania) immediately following the screening, he gave some background on the process of creating Gravity. Here are some highlight:

Bart Weiss: Could you discuss the process and the development of the visual language presented?

Brent Green: The idea started forming when I went to Kentucky for Burn to Shine (a concert series that travels to abandoned venues, like Leonard Wood’s home, plays a show in them, then demolished it in the name of urban progress). Leonard’s only friend recommended the house for a concert, and when we went to visit it, I fell in love with it and the story of Leonard and Mary.

When I was writing the script, I had this picture of what I wanted it to look like in my head. I drew those images out, and I knew that I had to reconstruct the house, and it seemed impossible. But that made me focus and make the film I wanted to make.

Charles Dee Mitchell: So how did your neighbors feel about you basically building a town in your backyard?

B.G.: They said I was bringing down property values! But they eventually came around to the idea. They would even bring their kids over to play on the piano that we built and to see the house.

Audience Member: Were you looking to make a feature?

B.G.: No, it just took an hour and 15 minutes for me to tell the story. Actually, the original script was edited down to what you just saw. Originally, it was meant to be much longer and had all these sub-plots, extra stories. But I edited it down to just the relationship between Leonard and Mary. It created a more intimate experience, for you all and for us working on it.

Audience Member: Was the dialogue in the film based off of research on the couple, or was it all fabricated?

B.G.: A lot of it was made up. The story is based on a true story, but the script, the dialogue, is a fictional take on a non-fictional story.

Audience Member: How long did it take to make the film?

B.G.: From start to finish, about a year and a half. Since we were rebuilding the house, it took a little longer than usual. We would build for a week, shoot for a week, break to build again, and then shoot.