Funded! This project was successfully funded on December 16, 2012.

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Uncovering Helen Levitt: a camera-shy photographer hits the NYC streets for 70 years, transforming American street photography forever.

LIVE UPDATES!

  • Tune in to see Tanya and special guests until the end of the campaign!
  • We're streaming live on our 95 Lives internet channel. Schedule updated hourly on our Kickstarter Countdown page!

* Press and Buzz * 

Indiewire • Ohara DesignThe AlgonquinEye 5PhotographyUNcapped • International Street Photography • The Reel Foto • Jewish Women's Archive Blake Andrews

95 Lives: About the Film

Before street photographers took Manhattan by storm, there was Helen Levitt. An artistic pioneer and the ultimate photographer’s photographer, Levitt lived as a total enigma, determined to dodge the public eye in favor of what she loved most: poker, baseball, and, above all, capturing the city at play. 95 Lives searches for the many, colorful lives of this female pioneer and the formidable contributions she made to 20th century art and to the city that shaped her incredible body of work: New York.

95 Lives still: Penny Wolin with her image of Levitt's hands holding vintage image of young Levitt ©2012 Penny Wolin ©2012 Tanya Sleiman / All Rights Reserved
95 Lives still: Penny Wolin with her image of Levitt's hands holding vintage image of young Levitt ©2012 Penny Wolin ©2012 Tanya Sleiman / All Rights Reserved

I want to make this film because I am gripped by the story of a fiercely independent woman who found magic in 1930's Harlem with a used camera. How did she earn the unofficial title “visual poet laureate of New York” as the most celebrated yet least known photographer of her time?

I launched this project when I first met Helen Levitt in 2008. I then began production in Fall 2009 in New York with contemporary street photographers and conducted interviews with artists, friends of Helen Levitt, and scholars related to the story. I felt the race against time in order to speak with some of Helen Levitt's friends who were thriving yet nonetheless in their late 80's and early 90's. The interviews I secured in the earliest productions are fabulous insights into mid-century New York and California arts communities.  For 3 years, I have been working in museum archives, city and national archives, historic film collections, and talking with surviving friends of Helen Levitt. 

I successfully led to completion a 30-minute short film called Serious Play: The Worlds of Helen Levitt, which accompanied a museum exhibition with Levitt's film and photographic work.  http://events.stanford.edu/events/259/25969/

95 Lives is an expansion of the short film, with fresh explorations and vibrant reenactments. 

16mm production with Connie Poster, Poker Legend. New York 2010
16mm production with Connie Poster, Poker Legend. New York 2010

The Story

95 Lives goes back in time to explore Levitt’s near-century life and the rich, textured worlds through which she so seamlessly navigated: the energy of 1920's Brooklyn, the avant-garde art scene of 1930's Manhattan, the poker mavericks, the Lindy Hoppers, and the non-actors who beautifully performed in Levitt’s street dramas.

How did she find her place in those worlds? How did this razor-sharp Jewish Brooklynite in bright red lipstick find creative inspiration in the street culture, dance halls, and music scene of Harlem? How is her photographic method linked to her star poker ace performances? Because Levitt famously declined invitations to speak and be interviewed, it’s a treasure to go beyond a character portrait or straight biography into something richer—to have an inside look into this luminary’s life and the bohemian circles and neighborhoods that shaped her artistic journey.

Near Helen Levitt & Walker Evans' kitchen sink photo print studio. New York, US National Archives
Near Helen Levitt & Walker Evans' kitchen sink photo print studio. New York, US National Archives

Join Us!

I am taking on this no-nonsense photographer because I am passionate for the work's power to make us laugh, think, and travel straight to the moment and place it was captured. I have found a magical world and want to share this story of discovery with you.

HOW TO SUPPORT

  • Make a donation in any amount you can. $1 - infinity.                  *Kickstarter is ALL OR NOTHING. If we don't reach our goal, we lose it all. We get nothing. Your pledge kicks in AFTER Kickstarter is a success. 
  • Tell friends about the project! Whether it's in person, through phone calls, emails and with social media on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, and beyond. THANK YOU for helping us get the word out! We treasure every dollar not for what it buys, but for the support you share.

Why Is Your Support Important? 

Your support will make the finished film the cinematic experience an artist like Helen Levitt deserves. 95 Lives goes straight to the key moments of her 95 years through dramatic reenactments. These scenes are historically accurate and grounded in scholarship, but enacted vibrantly to help make the film come alive for today's viewers.

Where Does Your Money Go?

I will work with the best lighting folk, camera and sound crew, and their fees are modest, but it all adds up. Your support also goes towards: sound stage and studio mixing rental fees, on-site location permit fees, composer fees, musicians, actors, makeup artists, hair designers, and vintage costumes that set the tone. 

On-Location and In-Studio

Reenactment productions will be filmed with your support on location in Harlem and Spanish Harlem. 

In-studio productions will be filmed in California and New York. We are creating these scenes to illustrate key biographical moments in Levitt's life and to show how these moments influenced her lens on the world.

With your support, we will film in early 2013 the following reenactment production scenes:

1. Harlem's dance and music scene: Flying Feet and Lindy Hopping

2. Where radical ideas were born when Helen Levitt found her artistic vision: New York Film and Photo League Scene 

3.  Understanding her lyrical film which was decades ahead of its time, In the Street (Levitt, Agee, Loeb)

4. Bohemian NY where Levitt enjoyed a circle of poker playing friends

5. Helen Levitt's love of movies, which began since her Brooklyn childhood through to art cinema at The New School in Manhattan

Early Bird Special!

Be one of the first 25 backers who pledge $250+ and receive the following:

  • A limited edition Pigeon & Camera tote bag (early sketch designed by Jeff Barfoot of bee things) filled with Levitt-inspired doses of vintage treasures. Enjoy our 90 second video featuring a few treasures!   
  • Your choice of limited edition Uusi designed "Bohemia" or 3D Cat playing cards in honor of Helen Levitt's love for animals and poker.
  • A personal thank you phone call (I’ll say thank you in any language!).
Early Bird Special rewards
Early Bird Special rewards

Our Team

Frazer Bradshaw / Director of Photography 

Reenactment scenes are in the excellent hands and lens of Frazer Bradshaw. His work as a cinematographer has screened at international festivals such as Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, New York, and San Francisco. His directorial debut Everything Strange and New earned the FIPRESCI Prize (2009 San Francisco Film Festival) and the top prize at the 2009 Munich Film Festival, as well as an Independent Spirit Awards nomination (Best First Feature). Bradshaw’s recent documentary DP work includes Focus Feature’s Babies (2010); These Amazing Shadows (2011), co-directed by Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton; and Informant (2012), by Jamie Meltzer. Bradshaw's unique visual style and lyrical approach to storytelling have secured his place as a festival circuit favorite.

Kent Sparling / Sound Artist

A prolific sound artist, composer of experimental electro-acoustic music and re-recording mixer and sound designer for film, Kent Sparling creates exquisite soundscapes. We are thrilled to work with him designing sound as a vibrant part of our film. Kent is based in George Lucas’ Skywalker Sound in Northern California as well as his state of the art independent studio. His feature film credits include Sofia Coppola’s major films, The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette; Mike Mills’ Thumbsucker, Spike Jonez’s Adaptation, James Gray’s We Own the Night and Two Lovers, Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer and Lance Hammer’s acclaimed debut celebrated for its original contribution to American cinema and sound, Ballast. Kent composed original film scores for Wayne Wang’s Princess of Nebraska, AD Liano’s Seven Fallen Objects, Eduardo Sanchez’s Seventh Moon (with Antonio Cora), and Frazer Bradshaw’s Everything Strange and New (with Daniel Plonsey). He has also produced records for Gunnar Madsen, Pillows, and Vanessa Lowe; mixed records by the Apes of God; and restored/remixed the original score to the 1982 film The Escape Artist, by George Delarue.

Tanya Sleiman / Producer & Director 

A documentary filmmaker and teacher with a prior career in higher education, Tanya currently teaches film and television production in California and recently taught with NYU Tisch School of the Arts as the 2011 on-site Program Director for documentary film and photography in Cuba. Tanya is drawn to character portraits and visual essays. Her 2008 short essay A Chronicle Of Concrete screened on PBS, in international festivals and US exhibitions, including New York's favorite summer screening series, Rooftop Films. Her 2009 documentary Iraq in the USA was featured on California Public Radio for its vibrant collective portrait of Iraqi refugees in a new wave of migration to US shores. In 2008, Tanya dove into her exploration of Helen Levitt’s legacy, sharing a 30-minute film version at Cantor Arts Center for their exhibit “In a New York Minute: Photographs by Helen Levitt” (April 2011).  Tanya lived in New York City from 1997-2007. She is proud to explore the legacy of 20th century New York with 21st century international audiences.

Old New York (Yorkville neighborhood) from the US National Archives
Old New York (Yorkville neighborhood) from the US National Archives

Inside Scoop!

I've already filmed interviews with many generous scholars, artists and friends who care about Helen Levitt's legacy. They include:

THANK YOU!

A Big Apple shout out to Phil Dwyer (music), Mina T. Son (advisor), and a special THANK YOU TO ALL COLLABORATORS AND CONTRIBUTORS. Every dollar is a vote of confidence for the project. Working together, we can make this film be as vibrant as the city of New York and the artistry of Helen Levitt. Thank you so much for joining us in this journey—you’ve made our hearts smile!

HOW KICKSTARTER WORKS

Kickstarter’s platform allows filmmakers like us to share our project with friends next door and new friends across the globe who connect with us through the magic of the Internet. Kickstarter is a SAFE & SECURE way to collect donations online. The donations are processed by Amazon. All the money, minus the fees collected by Kickstarter and Amazon, goes straight to the production of the film.

CAN WE RAISE MORE THAN OUR GOAL?

Heck yes! 

Productions will be stronger and better than ever. Thank you!

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Making a documentary film is never easy! It's a long slow process, but I know what it takes to make a film. To ensure success of our project, I have teamed up with experienced film experts who understand the artistry and the business of making a feature film. I also retained the finest attorneys in copyright law.

NEXT STEPS

In 2012, I confirmed creative partnerships needed for the 95 Lives production to move forward. I'll happily share production updates as we advance to our goal. Reenactment filming will be finished in Summer 2013. I believe in our community, our story, and our storytelling. Despite the long process of making a feature documentary, I am energized by the legacy of Helen Levitt and her friends. I look forward to sharing my discoveries with you.

FAQ

Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.

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    HIGH FIVE! You're an Outreach Partner and you can share the film news in your community! Receive a special Outreach Partner credit on our film's website and our social media pages. You also receive exclusive project updates before anyone else with a lifetime of gratitude from us always. THANK YOU.

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    FILM CLUB! Digital download of the film and a digital high resolution production still, plus all of the above!

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    BROOKLYN DATE NIGHT! A DVD of the film and a 95 Lives digital soundtrack, plus all of the above. Create a date night smoother than Brooklyn is cool when you cue up your 95 Lives soundtrack during dinner: sweet jazz meets swinging lindy hop with bold NY soundscapes. Digital "sound-load" + DVD = YES!

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    GRAND SLAM! All of the above plus: a limited edition 95 Lives screen-printed "Pigeon & Camera" reusable tote bag for beach, ballpark, market, photo shoots, books and beyond! Get a BIRD'S EYE VIEW!

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    LINDY HOP! A great gift for the swing music and dance fan: BE IN THE FILM! Receive star treatment as you join the film production in a vibrant 1940s re-enactment scene: Harlem Swings at The Savoy. Receive a high-res production still featuring YOU in action on set and get a lesson from the best Lindy Hoppers out there, enjoy live music, meet the director, plus all reward packages above! Note: Filming is in the San Francisco, CA area. (Reward does not include your travel; a wonderful meal is provided!) What are you waiting for? HOP TO IT!

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    EARLY BIRD! Be among the few and the first to see a rough cut of the film. Receive an invitation to a private film-in-progress screening followed by a reception where your feedback goes straight to the director. Plus, your name on the BIG SCREEN in the thank you credits in the film's rolling titles, a limited edition production still sent from location shoots, plus all rewards above! Private screening cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, New York. (Travel not included.) EARLY BIRD SPECIAL: first 25 donors to support at $250 level earn a customized bonus reward! Details in EARLY BIRD header on left!

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    RED CARPET! Receive a pair of tickets to the 95 Lives FILM PREMIERE in the town nearest you. Can't get to the movies? We'll bring this movie to you! Private screening option available with personalized skype or phone conversation with the film’s director. Plus all reward treasures above.

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    ROYAL FLUSH! Earn your ASSOCIATE PRODUCER credit and a personal invitation to the reenactment scene of the poker legends! Your name will be listed as ASSOCIATE PRODUCER in the film's credits and all web materials, including IMDb. Receive 2 tickets to the film's World Premiere where you meet cheering audiences. Plus, all rewards above.

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    THE NEW YORKER! Earn your VIP Pass to the film's Premiere. Smile! That paparazzi flash is for you as ASSOCIATE PRODUCER in the film's credits and all web materials, including IMDb. In New York or coming to the Big Apple for the premiere? Ask for your private tour of Helen Levitt's favorite New York neighborhoods. Thank you!

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    THE WORKS! Earn EXECUTIVE PRODUCER credit in the film's titles and all web materials, including IMDb. Plus, receive a limited edition 1 of 25 print of New York scenes by a photographer featured in the film. All rewards above, plus: one vintage treasure hand-selected for you!

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Funding period

- (30 days)