Film producer/director Courtenay Singer has created “Out of the Fire” a powerful documentary film about potter Kevin Crowe and his process. She shares her insights on its message about the deep meaning of being an artist.
ABI: Why did you make this film?
CS: Kevin Crowe and I first met when I attended a weekend pottery workshop at his home studio in Amherst, VA. At the time, I was working on TV shows for various networks, and I had been making pots for about 15 years. For a long time, I had wanted to find a personal film project to pursue. I was waiting for something to come along that would “hook” me, and be worth the immense effort that it would require. Something meaningful that would allow me to express and explore important concepts about life that I care about, and think about often.
When I met Kevin, and saw his studio, his astounding kiln, and breathtaking, powerful work, and heard what he had to say about art making, life choices, and community, I recognized that this was the story I wanted to tell.
Kevin’s life philosophies resonated with me powerfully – not just as he explains them so articulately in his own words, but also by the example he sets. He is an inspiring person. So I largely made “Out of the Fire” because I wanted to share with others what Kevin had to say.
I also made the film because pottery making has been important in my life, and I wanted to share with viewers how satisfying and exciting working in clay can be. The feel of the clay, the slow development of skills and “a voice,” the transformation of the material… as other potters know, the whole process is just so cool. And Kevin and I share the same awe and appreciation about the valuable connection between the maker and the user of functional pottery.
Additionally, I have always been struck by the many metaphors for life that abound in the craft, including those relating to risk-taking, discipline, dedication, love, surrender, and even loss. So I wanted to make the film in order explore those concepts, too.
And as a filmmaker, the audio-visual draw of the giant furnace that is Kevin’s three-chambered wood-burning kiln also inflamed my imagination. I wanted to take viewers on that exciting journey in which a team of people fire nearly 2000 handcrafted pots for four days, reaching temperatures well over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.
So that weekend when Kevin and I first met, I became unexpectedly, instantly consumed with the desire to make a documentary film about him, and an upcoming kiln firing. So I asked him. I’m very glad that he agreed!
ABI: How did you go about sharing Kevin’s philosophical message through the film?
CS: Kevin expresses many of his philosophies through his interview in the documentary. Editing the film entailed the making of very hard choices, as I had far more compelling interview material than I could reasonably include. What remains in the film are the words that I felt were too important to lose.
For example, Kevin has found his true calling in pottery making, and explains that he feels lucky to know what he is “here” to do. And he stresses the importance, for him, of living an authentic life. But he reminds the audience that pursuing an artistic, creative path can be marginal economically, and difficult, and to remember that we always have choices. In the same vein, he explains that he’s always re-evaluating how much is “enough” as he makes his way in this culture – a familiar internal conversation for many (if not most) of us making a living in the arts.
In the film, I was also able to share Kevin’s philosophies with viewers by being a “fly on the wall,” and letting the camera observe his actions. Doug Gritzmacher, Director of Photography, captured the action in a naturally observant, unobtrusive way. Viewers feel as if they have been transported to another world for a while. We learn through Kevin’s words and actions that he is intensely motivated, and self-taught, in many areas of his life. He is someone who sets his mind to things, and gets them done.
Additionally, when watching “Out of the Fire,” viewers will witness how Kevin handles challenging situations. His grace under pressure has astounded audiences around the country!
Importantly, Kevin also has an apprentice who takes on an unexpectedly central role in the documentary – Krista Loomans, who has given up her job at the State Department to move to the woods and make pots. During the process of editing the film, I found that Krista gained more traction and importance as a character than I had originally anticipated. My story consultants, Doe Mayer and Jed Dannenbaum, helped me to see that developing Krista’s story more fully would serve the film well, as she evolves before our eyes. Through Krista’s journey of risk-taking and growth, we also see some of Kevin’s philosophies taking hold, even as Krista fears failure (and what artist does not?) and solidifies her commitment to making a life as a potter.
Similarly, Kevin’s philosophies about the importance of community also come through clearly in the film. Kevin has made a life that is a fascinating combination of independence and interdependence, another concept I found compelling, and wanted to explore in making the movie.
ABI: Who should watch this?
CS: While this documentary will resonate with artists of all kinds, and potters in particular, it is not just for artists. And although it is philosophical and lyrical at times, it also contains elements of an action movie. It’s a fun ride.
“Out of the Fire” is a film for artists, yes, and for anyone needing a dose of inspiration, or re-thinking what really matters to them. Viewers have responded powerfully to the film’s messages about community, creativity, and following your dreams. People in transition have been moved to tears, and felt that for them, the film came along at “just the right time.”
While this is a documentary with a central storyline about potters involved in a four-day wood-firing, it’s also about much more than that.
ABI: How do you feel this film speaks about being an artist?
CS: This film speaks to the satisfaction and fulfillment that come from creating, and also to the obstacles and challenges that crop up for anyone walking that life path. Kevin, by example, shows the sheer discipline, dedication, and sacrifice required to turn his dreams into reality.
In the film, when describing Kevin, firing crew member Steve Prieto says: “Kevin is… at peace with where he is in the world. There isn’t anything he would rather be doing, and there isn’t any place he would rather be than where he is.”
To me – that’s the payoff. How many people can honestly say that, about their own lives? That is a goal worth striving for.
ABI: What is the reaction from the public at large?
CS: “Out of the Fire” has been very well received. The film premiered at the Breckenridge Festival of Film in Colorado in September of 2013, and has screened at 11 film festivals around the country so far. It also showed at the American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA), and the Craft in America Center in LA. The film was honored with the Bronze Remi Award for Documentary by WorldFest Houston, and came in second place for the audience award for best documentary at the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival.
At screenings that I have attended in person, including those at the Ojai Film Festival, and the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, the audiences have been engaged, enthusiastic, and appreciative. I have really enjoyed talking with viewers after the screenings. Learning what viewers take away from the film that resonates with them, and has importance to them, has been the most satisfying thing about making this documentary.