Little Children's Drawings from Little Feet

Little Feet, Alexandre Rockwell's new film, is about childhood in all its moments of weirdness and beauty. In the film, two young children (played by Rockwell's own kids, Lana and Nico) decide they to set out on a surreal journey through Los Angeles to set a goldfish free. It opens on Friday in New York, accompanied by Frances Bodomo's short film Boneshaker (also a project!). 

Lana and Nico's drawings appear as titles in the opening of the film. "The drawings came about when my daughter and I began talking about a journey these kids might take," Rockwell writes. "Nico, my son, joined in and they began to tell the story in pictures." The result was part storyboard, part coloring book: "Sort of as if Jon Cassavetes directed an episode of the Little Rascals.

Below are a few of our favorites. 

The Year in Publishing 2014

The best publishing projects of 2014 came in many formats and shapes and sizes, but they all share a dedication to highlighting a variety of original and essential voices. Here are a few of our favorites of the year. 

The Guernica Annual 2014

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The print debut of the beloved online journal, The Guernica Annual takes some the magazine’s best articles from 2014 and turns them into a lovely work of art. Find a copy here

C-86 and All That: Indie 1983-1986   

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This book is Neil Taylor's loving examination of a particular time and place during which indie rock came into its own as a genre. It's available soon, but you can follow along on the project's Facebook page, where Taylor is sharing new finds. 

Unsolicited Advice 2015: Weekly Planner and Journal 

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Graphic designer and all-around fun Internet guy Adam J. Kurtz provides plenty of prompts--both practical and fantastical--to harness creativity everyday. We talked to him earlier this year, while the project was still going on, and you can now get it here.  

The Oxford American Texas Music Issue

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The acclaimed Southern literary magazine heads over to Texas for its annual music issue.

The Manual, Everywhere 

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Andy McMillan's design journal for the web, available in digital and gorgeous print editions.

Dogs Rule, Nonchalantly 

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New Yorker cartoonist and cover artist Mark Ulriksen draws a book full of canine companions that leap (and bark!) off the page. 

Secret Behavior Magazine 

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A beautiful art publication that falls somewhere on the spectrum between a magazine and a book, Secret Behavior is “full of feelings, flesh, fucking and other normal things.” 

Catstarter

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The highbrow indie book publisher Coffee House Press goes delightfully lowbrow in this anthology about cats on the Internet, and why we love them. The book's not available yet, but we had to include it — partly because it's called Cat is Art Spelled Wrong. 

East of Borneo 2.0 

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A magazine that explores contemporary art from the perspective of Los Angeles culture. A must for West-Coast art lovers.

sixteenbynine: A New Magazine About TV 

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Finally, a magazine that treats television with the reverence it deserves! A super fun publication with an eye for lovely design. 

Kickstarter Documentaries on the Oscar Shortlist

There are a total of five (!) Kickstarter-funded films on the Oscar shortlist for Documentary Feature. It's an incredible array of films on a variety of subjects, and we couldn't be prouder to see them all noted this way. Watch the trailers for each below. 

Finding Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier is one of America's greatest street photographers. Her work, which seemed to be destined for obscurity, was rediscovered after her archives were purchased in an auction. From there, the story just gets more interesting. This documentary examines Maier's work and place in the American photo canon. 

The Internet's Own Boy 

The Internet's Own Boy is about Aaron Swartz, internet pioneer and activist. It follows Swartz from his teenage years, through to his involvement with RSS and Reddit, as well as his political advocacy and untimely death. It's also a film about the future of information on the internet. 

Keep On Keepin' On 

Keep On Keepin' On is a story about music and inspiration: 91-year-old Clark Terry, who played with Duke Ellington and mentored Miles Davis (among many others), is passing his torch on to his last student, a blind piano prodigy named Justin Kauflin. 

Citizen Koch

Citizen Koch is a film about money, power, and politics. It's a journalistic story to shed some light on the huge influence of the billionaire Koch brothers, and their presence in the world of politics, entertainment, and beyond. 

Art and Craft

Art and Craft is the fascinating tale of America's most prolific art forger, Mark Landis, whose enormous talent has been secret for years — until he is discovered by a collector and made to confront his decades-spanning legacy.

Not Just Another Company

When we started Kickstarter our goal wasn’t to start another company. It was to create a way for artists, musicians, filmmakers, chefs, craftspeople, designers, adventurers, and other creative people to fund and build community around their ideas. We wanted to create a universe where ideas were funded not because some executive thought they seemed like a good way to make money, but because people wanted them to exist.

A belief in the immeasurable importance of art and creativity is core to who we are as a company. Our mission is to help bring creative projects to life. We exist so that other people’s ideas can exist. We've remained independent and founder-led so that we can pursue this mission fully.

We’re also a company that cares deeply about how we go about pursuing this mission. We try to act with integrity, by prioritizing responsible governance, corporate transparency, and a respectful and inclusive work environment. There’s much more to be done, but our commitment to creating a better company for our team and you, our community, is real.

Over the past few months we’ve worked with a nonprofit called B Labs that recognizes companies that demonstrate a commitment to corporate transparency, civic engagement, and other socially conscious practices. We’re happy to report that after evaluating Kickstarter against their high standards of corporate responsibility, B Labs has named Kickstarter a “Certified B Corporation.” You can read the full assessment of our practices here. We’re proud of this certification, and we will use it as a baseline for further improvement.

From our commitment in our Privacy Policy to never sell our users’ data, to our transparent public stats page, to this B Labs certification, Kickstarter is committed to being a responsible company for the long haul. We’re grateful for your continued support. Thank you.

20 Questions With Sa Umbrella's Justin Nagelberg

If you've ever used an umbrella, you know the very specific frustration of having that umbrella get completely destroyed after walking just a few blocks in the rain. How does this happen? Why does this happen? We're not entirely sure of the details, but mainly we'd guess that they're made cheaply and poorly constructed. The Sa Umbrella circumvents those problems by being sturdy and in a different shape than your average umbrella. It still achieves the same purpose, which is to make it so rain doesn't get on your skin and clothes and hair, but it looks different while it does that.

We spoke to Justin Nagelberg, one of the creators of the umbrella, about Japan, Ninja Turtles, SoCal punk and more.

Tell us about the last great meal you had:

That would have to be Ramen Jiro (Shinagawa). I'm currently visiting my old home city, Tokyo, so I've had the pleasure of having many superb meals lately.

First movie you saw in the theater:

I honestly can't remember that far back, but it was probably Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Jurassic Park, or 3 Ninjas knowing myself.

Small thing you can’t live without:

Life would be pretty tricky without my iPhone.

An experience you’ll never forget:

Snowboarding backcountry knee-deep powder snow in Hokkaido, followed by a gorgeous outdoor onsen in the woods with pillow-like snow softly falling. Truly an unforgettable experience I hope to repeat again and again.

Music you loved as a teenager:

The first CDs I ever got as a kid were No Doubt Tragic Kingdom and the Final Fantasy VII Soundtrack. Then I was really into punk rock for a while like most Southern Californian kids, my favorites were No Use For A Name and Millencolin. Then by the end of my teenage years I transitioned into more indie stuff like Elliott Smith, The Unicorns, and Björk.

First book you remember being really affected by:

Although as a kid I loved anything Tolkien, I would have to say The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami was the first book that really caught my attention. Ever since then I have been hooked on all of Murakami's work.

How do you start each morning?

I usually start the day with an espresso, hand drip, or chemex-brewed coffee. I love taking the time to manually grind the beans, tamp, measure, and brew the coffee. It's like a little science experiment every morning. With certain beans you have to adjust the grind size or tamping pressure to get that perfect balance. It's a very relaxing and rewarding experience to start the day with.

Favorite app?

Foursquare, but the original one, not so much the newer Foursquare/Swarm. It is far and away the most useful, interesting, and informative app I have on my phone. Although I like Swarm, and especially some of the newer features, I still really hope that they will reunite the two apps one day and bring back mayorships and badges.

What’s your computer desktop/phone lock screen?

My desktop is just a bokeh image that I took ages ago of some very vibrant green plants in late spring. I like to keep my desktop uncluttered, relaxing, and clear from distractions. My phone lock screen is the new Andy Gilmore wallpaper that appeared in iOS 8.

Your favorite personal item of clothing:

I love wearing a classic Oxford shirt buttoned to the top. I usually alternate between colors or patterns, but never too complicated, and preferably with no logo.

What do you carry with you every day?

My iPhone (currently a white 6) and a simple wallet with as little in it as possible.

Favorite place to eat:

This is a very hard question for a foodie to answer! Just to name a few of my favorite places randomly off the top of my head and in no particular order: Langer's Delicatessen, Ramen Jiro, Rokurinsha, Mentoku Nidaime Tsujita, Fuunji, Roberta's Pizza, Pho T Cali, Lucha Libre, Mother Dough, Sushi Ota, Sol Food, Burger Mania, Ddukbaegi Jip, Tony's Jacal, Rico's Taco Shop, and I'll stop myself there.

Place you wish everyone could visit:

Tokyo.

Last idea or factoid you came across that stayed in your brain:

I was recently watching Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson and was really struck with the episode pertaining to carbon gas on the surface of Venus and how it once was an Earth-like planet, but rather than it's distance from the sun, it became an intensely hot and uninhabitable planet due to the carbon in its atmosphere. It's very interesting to see how something as little as the amount of carbon molecules per million in the atmosphere can have such a drastic effect. I really hope that we can get things together on Earth so we don't suffer a similar fate.

Person in your field whose career/life/work you admire:

I'm a huge fan of anything from Muji and I really admire Spock.

Who did you learn the most from?

I wouldn't say there is just one person in particular who I learned the most from, but rather I learned from all of my friends, family, colleagues, and plenty of random people.

Favorite thing about the place you live:

New York has a trillion things to do, and before you can do even a trillionth of that, there are a trillion new things to do.

Favorite time of day and why:

Although I rarely wake up early enough to appreciate it, I really do love the sunrise hours. I love the sunrise itself, but also just how empty it is everywhere. There's also something about the air at time of day that is really crisp, refreshing and invigorating.

Favorite thing to work with:

My mind. It's much easier working with a concept in my own head rather than on paper, 3D modeling, verbalizing, or whatnot. But tangible object wise, I love working with paper. Paper is wonderful. It comes in so many varieties of color, weight, and texture, can be written upon, and can be bent, folded, or manipulated easily.

What is the last thing you made?

I just made some supplemental 3D models and technical drawings for the umbrella actually. We have been going back and forth with our production manager and the factory to get the umbrella just right.

Kickstarter at Art Basel in Miami Beach

Back in September, we announced that Art Basel was launching a new initiative to highlight and support work by non-profit visual arts organizations. This partnership has already helped seven inventive art projects from around the world come to life — everything from a groundbreaking exhibition about performance art in the Arab world to an online magazine about contemporary art from a Los Angeles point-of-view. As those ideas are coming to fruition, others are just launching — two new projects are live now:

Daniel Arsham: Welcome to the Future at Locust Projects
Daniel Arsham: Welcome to the Future at Locust Projects

Locust Projects, Miami’s longest-running alternative art space, is producing a major new installation by New York-based artist Daniel Arsham in his hometown of Miami. It’s called Welcome to the Future, and involves Arsham digging a 25-foot-wide trench in the gallery floor and filling it with the calcified artifacts of the future — a “muted cacophony of 20th century media devices.” Part of the funds will go toward fixing up the gallery floor for the next artist.

Preserving Place: Portraiture Studios in the Middle East
Preserving Place: Portraiture Studios in the Middle East

The Mosaic Rooms, a non-profit gallery in London, wants to help Syrian artist Hrair Sarkissian produce his first book, to coincide with his first UK solo show. The book will reflect on the disappearing tradition of studio portraiture in the Middle East and will feature Sarkissian’s photographs of empty, staged studio backdrops in six Middle Eastern cities. The photos serve as “symbols of lost traditions, cultural identity and time; eulogies to a certain period within a society and celebrations of portraiture as an art form, and of these spaces, which can no longer be found.”

Headed to Miami? We’re offering a limited number of single-day tickets to Art Basel in Miami Beach free with the promo code Kickstarter, redeemable here. (Only one per person, please!) We also wanted to share a few Kickstarter events, in case you’re in the neighborhood!

  • Starting Wednesday, December 3 and going through Sunday, December 7, we’ll hold daily meet-and-greet sessions from 3 to 5 pm in the Garden Oasis at the Botanical Garden across from the Miami Beach Convention Center. Anyone is welcome to stop by, say hi and learn more about Art Basel's Crowdfunding Initiative and Kickstarter! No ticket or RSVP needed. Contact crowdfunding@artbasel.com with any questions.
  • On Friday, December 5 from 10 to 11:30 AM, we’ll have an event in the Conversation series, focused on new funding models for the visual arts. Speakers will include our International Partnerships Lead Stephanie Pereira, plus Dennis Scholl of the Knight Foundation and gallerist Jérôme Poggi. The session will be moderated by András Szánto. It will take place in the auditorium at the Miami Beach Convention Center, and is free and open to the public, with no RSVP needed. Contact crowdfunding@artbasel.com with any questions.
  • On Friday, December 5 at 6 PM, we’ll take part in a Salon discussion about Art Basel’s Crowdfunding Initiative. In addition to our Stephanie Pereira, speakers will include Mari Spirito (Founding Director of Protocinema and Juror for Art Basel Crowdfunding Initiative), Glenn Phillips (Acting Head, Department of Architecture & Contemporary, Getty Institute and Juror for Art Basel Crowdfunding Initiative), Chana Budgazad Sheldon (Executive Director at Locust Projects), Mary Ceruti (SculptureCenter's Chief Curator), Aaron Cezar (founding Director of Delfina Foundation). The session will be moderated by András Szánto. Entrance will be granted with a show ticket.

A History of Kickstarter in Space

We love space — its potential, its unfathomable limitlessness, the ways in which it inspires people to think things they've never thought before. Simply put: space makes you dream big. Over the years, we've seen many amazing, space-related Kickstarter projects, huge, small, real, speculative, and everywhere in between. Here are just a few of them.

LUNAR MISSION ONE 

Lunar Mission One is sending an unmanned mission to the South Pole of the moon — a largely unexplored area — and in the process, bringing along a capsule of digital memories and physical human materials (you can send along a strand of hair, for instance). The project is transforming the way that space exploration happens by removing the need for a huge investment from national space agencies, and putting the power in the hands of individuals instead. 

Kansas City SSEP Mission 5 Rocket

Earlier this year, a group of middle-schoolers designed an experiment to send to space (it was about whether rust occurs on a nail in microgravity). They launched the experiment on July 13th, and rendezvoused with the International Space Station! Read about the launch details here

Plasma Jet Electric Thrusters for Spacecraft

Prototype projects are an important part of Kickstarter, and this plasma thruster is a great example. For years, HyperV has been building, operating, and deploying plasma accelerators of many different shapes, sizes, and power levels (they show many of them off in the project video). This project was for the development and demonstration of a prototype plasma jet thruster that could be used for orbital maneuvering and much more. It's about taking existing technology and making it more robust.

ARKYD

The ARKYD is a space telescope that's controllable by anyone. That means that backers could search for asteroids, look at distant galaxies, or examine our own solar system from the ARKYD. And another thing: you can also send a picture of yourself to it, which means space selfies with the Earth as a backdrop, using the ARKYD's camera arm. The project is not yet complete, but you can follow its fascinating story in the updates

1000 Student Projects to the Edge of Space

Between this project and its twin brother, hundreds of tiny student art- and science projects from all around the world (all fitting inside ping pong balls!) went to circle the Earth in weather balloons. We have been following these two projects with great interest — here's an amazing picture of one of the balloons mid-bursting.

ArduSat 

One of several satellite projects on Kickstarter, the ArduSat is a hackable Arduino satellite designed to open up space exploration to everyone. You can create your own experiment and then send it to space to run; after about a week, the data returns to you. In 2013, it deployed from the International Space Station. 

The Intergalactic Travel Bureau Tour

What space roundup would be complete without an imaginative look toward the future? The Intergalactic Travel Bureau Tour is a series of posters about the speculative future of space travel — it's basically a travel agency for space transit. The posters are beautifully designed, with whimsical calls to sight-see on Mars or book your dream vacation on one of Saturn's moons. Because if there's anything this roundup proves, it's that space exploration is all about what we can imagine.

Griffin Dunne on Making a Documentary About Joan Didion

Joan Didion is a major writer. She's responsible for some of our most insightful cultural criticism, and has written definitive works about Los Angeles, cultural shifts, and coping (or not coping) with death; it's no stretch to say that she is one of our culture's most important writers. Recently, her nephew, filmmaker/actor/writer Griffin Dunne set out to do what hadn't been done before: make a documentary, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, about her life. We spoke to Dunne about that process, as well as what it was like to grow up with an aunt and uncle that were changing the course of literature. 

Dunne's film, which he is directing along with Susanne Rostock, is live on Kickstarter right now.  

On the project page for the film, you mention that the narrative structure of the film will be dictated by Joan Didion's essays. Is your own experience as her nephew part of that structure as well?

One of the things we have been fortunate about with the structure has always been that one of the initial ideas was to use her work to thread the story of her life. From that, we’ll have tangents of interviews and break down certain articles. It solidifies our original vision that this is very much a film for the fans of Joan. It’s not an exposé, because no one could be more self-analytical and probing about the truth of their own lives than Joan about her own. We’ve been fortunate to have her essays serve as our narration. 

Growing up with both John [Dunne, Didion's late husband] and Joan—they shared this candor in their writing all my life. My brothers and sisters and parents and I would always sort of—I would read in the Saturday Evening Post or LIFE magazine where they each had alternate columns—kind of where they were at in their marriage, or where they were traveling or what was going on in their lives. We’d read about it more than hearing them talk about it. We didn’t know they were having marital problems and thinking about divorce until we read it. For me in particular, I was an early teen in the ’60s, and I was too young to get high and get arrested and participate in demonstrations and hitchhike to Woodstock, but I felt a part of that era because John and Joan were my aunt and uncle—their experiences and where they went and where the culture took them in their journalism—I always felt related to that as well. They were very social, they would give parties, which they would include me in. I went to a party for Tom Wolfe when Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test came out and Janis Joplin was at the party. It was impressionable stuff for a 13-year-old. I eventually even made a movie about it. They were both very influential and never stopped being incredibly impressive to me. It’s an unusual thing to be in constant awe of your relations. They’re my aunt and uncle and now my aunt is surviving—that kind of awe and admiration has never stopped. 

It must have have been strange for you to learn about their lives from their writing.

They would answer questions in their writing that I wouldn’t have had the guts to ask. And I think that kind of style and that kind of self introspection and self-imposed toughness on the questions that they asked themselves. I think all of that was recognized, but when things were absolutely the most terrible in Joan’s life, her style and technique of writing were chained together in a tragic way on The Year of Magical Thinking. Suddenly an entire new generation of readers became aware of her because of that book, and because of what happened that led to that book being written. It’s another wave of people acknowledging that kind of writing. You write about death and how it effects you and how you grapple with it. It’s written in a voice from someone that has to write this in order to live. I mean, Joan used that phrase—she’s written in order to live ever since she picked up a pen and paper as a little girl. A much broader audience found her on The Year of Magical Thinking, but really she’d been writing the way she’d always been writing, she just happened to be writing about John and Quintana [Roo Dunne, daughter of John Dunne and Didion, who passed away in 2005] in this case.

You mentioned finding a new audience for Didion's work, but also, you seem to be surprised that a documentary about her hadn't already been made.

I don’t think she’s allowed it. Not in a JD Salinger-esque kind of way. I don’t think she’s been comfortable with the process of a camera following her around. She’s happy to do it if she’s promoting a book. Actually, not happy, but will do it. She will travel around the country and do the book readings and the Q&As and all that stuff. But that’s a specific mission. It gives her actual migraines after awhile.

Didion is very emotionally honest and open about her life in her writing. It must have been interesting weaving a narrative from that.

It’s going to be hard to find stuff that people don’t know that she hasn’t beat me to the punch about. I think what people won’t know is where she is at in this period of her life that she has decided to allow a documentary to be made—which is probably being made, more than likely, because I am her relative and we had worked together on Blue Nights and she liked the experience very much. I think people are going to see where she is physically and emotionally, and Blue Nights is very much not just about the loss of Quintana, but it’s also about aging. She’s very much in the August of her years—that’s not the part that she shared with the rest of the world, you know? I think you’ll also see that she has such a heart-attack seriousness perception-wise, and yet she has this really great sense of humor and a really funny laugh, and loves to laugh. There’s humor in the interviews as well. We were shooting her and Vanessa Redgrave going through a scrapbook of Vanessa’s daughter’s Natasha [Richardson, who passed away in 2009] wedding to Liam [Neeson]—it was about memories. Two women who survived a terrible loss looking at a book filled with happy memories. There was a lot of laughter and reminiscing. Those are the kind of moments I'm willing to happen.

Photo by Brigitte Lacombe
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

What spurred you to make this film?

When Susanne Rostock and I—who I’m co-directing the film with—when we did Blue Nights together, which was going to be used a promotional tool for the sale of the book, but the publishers gave us more money than they normally would have for something like that. When Susanne had the first cut of the picture, we both looked at each other and said, "This is a feature. Why has there never been a feature about Joan?" After we showed it to Joan and her publishers the next conversation we had with Joan was, "This could be a movie. Can we make a movie of this?" and she agreed. It’s an awesome responsibility, and it’s something I’ve been given permission to do that no one else has. It couldn’t be more clear how many fans are passionate about her work, want to see this, and feel it’s a story that has to be seen. That someone like this hasn’t been honored with a life story documentary is kind of shocking and surprising.

Did your relationship with Didion change in the process of putting this together?

No, not in a sense. It’s more my own internal relationship, because when I go over for dinner, and I bring up the film, I kind of feel like I’m talking business during dinner. If I had less perspective, I wouldn’t be thinking about that kind of stuff. Or I would have this thought: God, I wish I got what she just told me on camera. The only thing that’s really changed about my relationship with Joan is that as we’ve both gotten older, the people who are our most immediate relatives have passed on. Through that progression, or de-evolution or whatever you want to call it, we’ve ended up in first position right next to each other. When John died, my father became her John—not literally—emotionally, just in terms of the day-to-day relationship, and then when my dad died, it effortlessly became what I did, and it remained that way.

How did you create a timeline? How did you construct a narrative from all these disparate pieces?

We have a timeline chart of her life. An essay actually corresponds to the period in her life. If there is a section talking about her growing up in Sacramento, that would also lead to a conversation with Governor [Jerry] Brown of California, who is also from Sacramento and grew up with Joan’s family. He has known Joan’s family for generations, he can talk about California and the California where Joan is from. And then about their relationship when the governor was first running—for every campaign he’s always come to New York and stayed at John’s apartment or John and Joan’s apartment when he’s campaigning. And when we get to Slouching Towards Bethlehem as a period, we might talk to Jann Wenner about her contribution as a journalist and maybe he will reference one of her essays or pieces from The White Album about a particular murder, and then we’ll break down what that story is about, and show her unique perspective on an incident—big or small—but how it effects the national consciousness. Why that story about a woman who burns her husband alive in a car speaks to the kind of evil of the Santa Ana winds that were sweeping the nation when the '60s had gone bad post-Manson, post-Altamont. 

She was a social barometer for when wicked things come this way. I want to convey that point of view that Joan has that is so unique. That involves snakes being run over in deserts and poisonous spiders—these portentous images that run throughout her fiction and nonfiction, and use archival footage to illustrate our point. It would be kind of a tapestry of a person’s life that also talks about the changes of the country, from the New York of the ’50s when she was at Vogue through Vietnam, Manson, up to Reagan, Patty Hearst…her life in relation to all of these milestones. 

You mentioned the archival images would be a huge part of the film. A lot of people now come to Joan Didion through her iconography. Why do you think she’s turned into such a visual icon?

I think the internet has a huge amount to do with it. There’s an Instagram page that is also going to inform our documentary. The social media, which was never part of our vision for the movie, has to be recognized in it now. When I go through these pictures, I keep thinking I’ve seen just about everything and then I see an Instagram, and there are pictures I've never seen before, and someone has also used their favorite quote of hers. It's an interesting device, like a dust bunny or something. One thing picks up another, picks up another, and it just gets bigger and bigger. Images beget more images beget more images and then somebody comes along and says, "Oh my god! Is that Anna Wintour? No! That’s what Anna Wintour looks like." She has that look. She was Anna Wintour before Anna Wintour was Anna Wintour, and it was an entirely organic, spontaneous natural way that she dressed. She decided what to wear on her first day of work at Vogue. I think her stature —the usual words that come up: tiny frame, birdlike, with those big glasses—it’s just irresistible. People respond to that the way that they would respond to looking at a picture of Miles Davis without hearing his music, going “Who is that man?” Because of social media, people are drawn to her visually, and then want to know who she is.

Do you remember your first experience of reading her work?

I do. I was a terrible student. I was pretty severely dyslexic so reading was a real chore. I did like reading, I knew I was growing up in a pretty literary household, or at least a storytelling household in terms of being a family of film, television and novelists. But reading—I remember vividly how effortless it was to read Slouching Towards Bethlehem. One story after another completely engrossed me. The violence and the tone of violence and the tone of evil—these characters who I didn't know anything about. Someone who is murdered by these two guys on Fountain Avenue, and I grew up in LA, so I knew exactly the building. I could picture the violence of these two guys beating this [other] guy to death. It put in perspective later when Manson was killing — I thought of that. Joan was predicting a change in counterculture a year or two before that change actually happened, based on a violent incident. 

I remember being in our house in Los Angeles, reading it however slowly it was, just not getting up from the chair, just reading it all the way through. I can’t remember what room I was in, but I remember it getting darker and having to turn on the lights. It was a “Where were you when you read this?” moment. That’s a question we’ve asked many other people. It pinpoints people in their lives. Last night, Vanessa Redgrave’s agent Chris Andrews told me something that I hear all the time from different people, where they were in their station in life. He moved to California because he read Joan, It was "Lifestyles in the Golden Land" [The first section of Slouching Towards Bethlehem] I believe, that’s what drew him to Los Angeles as a very young man, and he stayed ever since. He credits Joan’s writing being the impetus of why he moved. It’s very rare that a writer can have an effect on so many people that they actually put their own lives in context.

Photo by John Bryson
Photo by John Bryson

What's your favorite piece of her writing?

There is a piece about Reagan that always—it was called "Many Mansions"—it is about Reagan as a governor. She just had his number from the very beginning. You know, Nancy Reagan was famously quoted as saying, “I don’t like that woman.” She just saw something in him that few people had seen before, that people weren't prepared to see. She understood his enormous appeal, that it would go to a national level. For the majority of her life, Joan has been a Republican, grew up in a very conservative household, which surprises a lot of people. But I think it served her very well in writing about politics. She doesn’t spare anyone, whatever her politics are. When she was at Berkeley she voted for [Barry] Goldwater. I like that essay because it deals with [Reagan] as a man before he’s going to become the man he’s going to be. It’s yet another time where Joan sees it before everybody else.