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Two brothers, estranged since 1948, share an exceptional bond. One is an art-world insider, and one lived alone in a world of art.



We just learned that The Other Brother won the Project of the Week competition on the Indiewire website! We will benefit from a consultation with SnapFilms and be in the running for Project of the Month!

(Any additional funds will go directly to support this project. Backers who join us during the last days of this campaign will afford us an opportunity to purchase archival storage containers for Jesse's work and to improve our workstation with upgrades to software and hardware. Please keep sharing The Other Brother).

The Story

Feature-length Documentary

“After all, the goal is not making art, it’s living a life.” Robert Henri

This is a film about the ‘genetics’ of art and sibling estrangement. The subject is art but the story is universal.

Two brothers (born in '26 and '28) whose alienation sadly continued through the natural death of the older brother in 2004 shared an exceptional bond. They were both visual artists.

Jesse. Mine Run, Virginia ........................................ Tom. Easley, SC
Jesse. Mine Run, Virginia ........................................ Tom. Easley, SC
Tom Flowers
Tom Flowers

The younger brother, Tom Flowers (who is now 85), received his undergraduate degree from Furman University and his MFA from the University of Iowa. He returned to Furman University for a 35-year teaching career in painting, during twenty-five of which he served as Chair of the Art Department. He has compiled an extensive exhibition record in the Southeast, received a Fulbright Fellowship to study in India, and just recently completed a one-person exhibition as he celebrated his birthday turning 85.

Jesse Flowers
Jesse Flowers

The older brother, Jesse Flowers, joined the service right after dropping out of high school and became a recluse soon after serving as a medic during the end of WWII. He lived in a dirt-floor shack without plumbing. The only visitors he allowed were his mother and, after her passing, his sisters. He lived off his large garden, a small military pension, odd jobs, and the staples his mother and sisters brought to him. They also delivered art supplies. After his mother passed away, the two sisters (and a husband, Ramond) continued weekly visits until Jesse passed away in 2004 at the age of 79.

The Other Brother Trailer

Tom's Art

Jesse's Art

An early backer...

'I cannot express enough my depth of emotion. Your short brief has captured my heart and interest this evening.'

c matthew taylor architect pa

How You Can Help

Pledge your support with a Kickstarter donation. Check out the rewards we offer to share Jesse's and Tom's artwork with you. Spread the word! Share the link to this Kickstarter campaign with your real and virtual friends. Send it to artists you know, and others who love art, documentaries, and human-interest stories. Connect with us on Facebook by visiting (and liking) our Mountain Tea Studios page. Join us in bringing this compelling story to life!

Rewards

Jesse & Tom, Self Portraits - Rewards Print 1 - 10"x10"
Jesse & Tom, Self Portraits - Rewards Print 1 - 10"x10"
Jesse & Tom Artwork - Rewards Print 2 - 8" x 10"
Jesse & Tom Artwork - Rewards Print 2 - 8" x 10"

 Jesse's Envelopes (6)

 Tom's Artwork (6 Postcards)

Poster 11" x 17"
Poster 11" x 17"

The Process

Jean and Janet (Flowers)
Jean and Janet (Flowers)

The Flowers sisters, Jean and Janet, were lifetime collectors of all things family—photographs, letters, journals, etc. Photographs of Tom abound, professionally created as he kept up with the headshots and portfolio requirements over the course of his career. There are photographs of Jesse, and video footage does exist because Jesse’s sight-impaired brother-in-law needed videotape of Jesse’s travels so that he could view them closely on a TV monitor for detail.

Jesse and Ramond
Jesse and Ramond
Jesse's table.
Jesse's table.

I researched this story through family interviews, letters, and photographs, which raised several themes and questions:

•Outsider art—Is it more from the inside?

•Long-term sibling estrangements—What fosters them, and what, if anything, resolves them?

•Why do we make art—Is it inward- or outward-directed, or both?

•Education interrupted—Opportunities denied.

•Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder—Before we knew what it was

•Alcoholism—Growing up with an alcoholic father

•Poverty

•Unconditional sibling support—How that can be difficult to obtain when mental illness presents itself; how it can be enabling when siblings feel powerless to help.

Jesse Flowers
Jesse Flowers
Tom Flowers
Tom Flowers
Viola, Janet and Jean
Viola, Janet and Jean

This story unfolds through first-person family interviews and readings of Jesse’s letters. Memories reconstruct. A complete picture often remains elusive. My aim is to stay true to the family’s common experience, as if eavesdropping on fragments of a family discussion. The film compels viewers to keep listening for clues to satisfy their desire to understand.

Jesse's Letters

After assembling the sequences of events and thinking that I had an understanding of the story, I began to read Jesse’s letters. The impression I had of who he was changed through each decade. So far, I have read all of his letters from 1944-1990, and transcribed parts of them. Those excerpts are read aloud by a professional actor and inserted throughout the documentary. That part is still in progress.

The Money

The budget reflects costs for finishing and distributing this feature-length documentary to film festivals and targeted audiences (art museums, art programs, etc.). Needless to say, we would be thrilled to achieve this monetary goal!

A Personal Note

My connections to this story are varied. I have an established career as a visual artist, art educator, and filmmaker. The younger brother, Tom Flowers, is my father-in-law.  My husband and producer, Mark Flowers, is a painter, and Jesse was the uncle he never met.

Our son, Morgan Higby-Flowers, is also a visual artist and teaches new media at the Watkins College of Art, Design and Film in Nashville, TN. Our oldest son, Carson, has a wickedly keen photographer's eye and is working in SF to make medical marijuana a choice for all patients. They and their wives—Adrienne (performing artist) and Virginia (sculpture professor at Austin Peay University)—have provided valuable feedback throughout this process.

I can share with you that this experience has been cathartic and enlightening for all involved.

'The Silent Uncle' Painting by Mark Flowers
'The Silent Uncle' Painting by Mark Flowers
Tom in studio
Tom in studio

Artistic Statement

Digital video is my current medium of choice. It is ideal for telling this story as it provides an “exhibition space” to share an entire lifetime of artwork from two brothers whose only connection is blood. It provides an opportunity to learn about their family and see how the experiences they shared growing up impacted their aesthetics and their futures.

The work of visual artists and filmmakers is often about making connections. The 4,818 files in The Other Brother folder on my computer provide ample opportunity for that; those connections involve landscape paintings and photographs of landscapes, themes, line, form, content, color, doodles, writing, family photographs, family relationships, and family memories.

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To date, my short documentaries have involved subjects who have something to say that makes them hard to turn away from. I align myself with their causes and work to give them “louder” voices; a man who sees the importance of being mindful of the military casualties of war (Flag Day), an octogenarian who uses handmade tools and equipment to create beautiful hand-turned wooden bowls from the trees she cuts down (Bowl Digger), an elderly African-American who recalls in great detail his experiences living in a small town in the shadow of an elite boarding school (Cornie), an aging and fiercely independent stripper teaching others her art and participating in a burlesque and sideshow festival (Side Show), and two estranged brothers who share only one thing, the need to create art (The Other Brother).

My films are, in the end, human-interest stories about people being true to their convictions. Sometimes those convictions are inspiring and sometimes they are tragically misguided.

Flag Day received a juror’s honorable mention at the 2005 AFI/Discovery Channel SILVERDOCS Documentary Conference and Filmfest held in Silver Spring, Md., and a Jury’s Citation at the 25th Black Maria Film and Video Festival in Jersey City, NJ. W.W. Norton chose Flag Day for inclusion on a Norton Sociology textbook DVD.

The Talent

Geoff Weeks
Geoff Weeks

The original musical score for The Other Brother was created by the immensely talented and generous Geoff Weeks. The film also introduces a new singer-songwriter, Logan Trask, singing a song she composed, “Paradiso.” Marlin Barnes performs the eclectic and tantalizing percussion piece (“The Twitter Machine”) for the slide show of Jesse's artwork.

Paris Peet
Paris Peet

The voice recordings of Jesse's letters are soulfully created by Paris Peet; actor, director and theatre educator.

The Experts

Tommy Hays author of What I Came to Tell You and The Pleasure Was Mine
Tommy Hays author of What I Came to Tell You and The Pleasure Was Mine

In “The Other Brother” Kristy Higby has rendered a cinematic miracle, illuminating the extraordinary life of Jessie Flowers -- a solitary, mysterious and troubled man who found solace and meaning in little else but his art. When Higby first began this project, Jessie was not much more than a family story, a talented eccentric who spent most of his time holed up in his shack doing his artwork or writing in his journals and who had at one point chased his visiting brother and children away with a loaded shotgun. But after Kristy spent years immersing herself in the thousands of letters, journals and sketchbooks he left behind, and interviewing Jessie’s devoted sisters and his estranged brother Tom Flowers, a successful artist and college professor, another more complex picture of Jessie began to emerge. In “The Other Brother” Higby weaves together interviews with the sisters, who knew Jessie best, with interviews of Tom Flowers, who hadn’t spoken with him since they were young men. The result is a living portrait of a man who has depth and compassion and who wasn’t without a sense of humor and who also was a very good writer. One of the most wonderful aspects of the film is how Higby pairs drawings and sketches by the two brothers. Jessie’s work feels crowded, humorous and primordial while Tom’s feels much more open, airy and contemporary. Yet by pairing the images Higby sets up a kind of artistic dialogue between the brothers that somehow transcends their decades of estrangement. Toward the end of the film we sense that Tom, looking through family photographs and Jessie’s sketchbooks, gets to know his brother in a way he never knew him in life. And that of course is what happens to us as we watch “The Other Brother”. By the end of the film, Higby has woven together so many layers of Jessie’s life in such an artful and profound way that ultimately we feel the man is in the room with us, flesh and blood.

Jim Chressanthis, Cinematographer
Jim Chressanthis, Cinematographer

Tom and Jesse each took a different path in life to get past the harshness of growing up and the distance between them. I feel like I have stepped into their lives in "The Other Brother". Kristy captures the broken silence between them. The brothers were brought back together through their artwork in this wonderful documentary. Jim Chressanthis, ASC (NO SUBTITLES NECESSARY: LASZLO & VILMOS)

Leisa Rundquist, PhD, Associate Professor of Art History, Department of Art, UNCA
Leisa Rundquist, PhD, Associate Professor of Art History, Department of Art, UNCA

An intimate look into sibling estrangement, The Other Brother considers the significant role of creativity within one’s life by bringing forth the compelling and poignant story of Tom Flowers, Furman University art professor and his older brother, Jesse Flowers, self-taught artist.Beginning with family interviews and recollections, director Kristy Higby slowly builds a complex, conflicted view of a bond shared by two brothers who last saw each other over sixty-five years ago.The documentary is a rare invitation to see numerous artworks by both brothers, side-by-side for the first time, in dialogue with each other.Under Higby’s careful orchestration, Jesse (the deceased sibling) is given a voice, and thus a palpable presence, through the off-camera reading of his introspective and often tender letters written during and after WWII.The Other Brother emphatically intertwines familial love and loss, while also confirming the profound influence that art has on all our lives.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

I know what needs to be done to complete this project. That list includes reading two more decades of letters, transcribing excerpts, and recording them in Jesse's voice. This is the last bit of editing to be completed. I will then submit the project for color correction and sound sweetening while I put the credits together and oversee the design work for the DVD package. This documentary will be finished well in advance of the March submission deadline for AFI Docs presented by Audi in Washington, DC (formerly The AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival). My first short documentary, Flag Day, was favorably received by the jurors of that festival, and I have wanted to return to the prestigious venue with a feature-length film. Many more festival submissions will follow.

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    In addition to the above, you will also receive a digital download link to the finished film. Plus a thank you postcard with Jesse or Tom's artwork.

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    In addition to all of the above you will receive a packet of 6 letter sized envelops printed with Jesse's 'envelop' illustrations and 6 postcards printed with Tom’s artwork.

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    In addition to all of the above, you will receive an 11"x17" signed poster for The Other Brother.

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    In addition to all of the above, you will receive a limited edition, archival quality 8"x10" giclee print of Tom and Jesse's artwork printed side by side and ready for framing. (two choices)

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