Uncovering Helen Levitt: a camera-shy photographer hits the NYC streets for 70 years, transforming American street photography forever.
- 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 *
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
I've already filmed interviews with many generous scholars, artists and friends who care about Helen Levitt's legacy. They include:
- Colin Westerbeck, Curator and co-author of 1st street photography bible
- Constance Poster, Poker Star and Friend of Helen Levitt
- Dave Beckerman, Street Photographer in NYC
- Elaine Mayes, Photographer and Friend of Helen Levitt
- Ellen Handy, Photo Historian
- Kenneth Jacobs, Filmmaker, inspired by Helen Levitt's film work
- Joel Meyerowitz, Photographer, Author, and Filmmaker
- John Milisenda, Photographer
- Leanne Staples, Street Photographer in NYC
- Leo Rubinfien, Photographer and Essayist
- Luc Sante, Writer, Critic, and Friend of Helen Levitt
- Markus Hartel, Street Photographer in NYC
- Matt Weber, Street Photographer in NYC
- Maria Szulc, Street Photographer in NYC
- Nina Marra Prantis, Color Printing Guru for and Friend of Helen Levitt
- Penny Wolin, Photographer
- Phillip Lopate, Writer and Critic
- Philip Perkis, Photographer and Friend of Helen Levitt
- Roberta Hodes, Filmmaker and Friend of Helen Levitt
- Sandra S. Phillips, Curator who co-launched 1st Levitt retrospective
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?
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.
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.
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.