The Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival is the longest-running women’s film festival in North America, showing films for over thirty years that honor “… films and filmmakers that present the world as women experience it.” So when our film team was told that Art for the People: Eric Bransby, American Mural Artist had been selected as one of the forty films to be shown in the 2019 festival, we were elated.
Not only were we thrilled to be included in this prestigious film festival, but at 103, Eric Bransby would get to see his nationally recognized life on the big screen.
Early Stages of the film project
The film was conceived in 2015 by cinematographer Jay Kriss, Jr. who planned to make a bio-documentary of mural artist Eric Bransby. Jay took Eric on a trip through Kansas and Missouri where he filmed Eric’s Midwest murals and enthusiastically interviewed experts, students, and artists who had known and worked with Eric during his years in Kansas and Missouri. But when Jay died unexpectedly in 2016, the project came to a standstill. Two years later, in late 2018, John Atkinson and I were invited to pick up the footage and create a film. This meant reviewing thirty hours of rough footage, ten hours of audio transcripts and hundreds of art and photo images. It also meant shooting additional footage, new interviews, archival photos, and artwork. The film also needed a music score.
Work begins in earnest
The project was unlike anything we had ever done before. It meant melding two filmmaker visions into a single unified whole. We wanted to honor Jay’s original concept and tell Eric Bransby’s story, while also expressing our own artistic sensibilities. There was much work to be done.
It Takes a Community
Producer Erin Hannan, Director of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, coordinated the initial supporters: El Pomar Foundation, Humanities Kansas, and Colorado Public Television and then worked with local advocates Kathy Loo and Jim Raughton, the Kriss Family and patrons of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, to complete funding for the project.
John and I co-directed the film. I also worked on the script, John tracked the images, permissions, and shot additional film footage, while film editor Eric Risher worked his magic by turning the story and footage into a piece of fine art. Early on we made the decision to include every one of Bransby’s public murals which meant incorporating eighty years of work into the film. This proved to be our biggest challenge. How to show all his art while telling a dramatic story in a single hour.
We were faced with a tough deadline. The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center wanted to show the film as part of their 100th Anniversary year celebration in 2019. In order to gather the resources necessary to make the film informative, interesting, beautiful and as personally moving as possible, we turned to the many talented members of the local Colorado Springs arts community: archival photo researchers and librarians Virginia Carlson and David Doman, narrator Birgitta DuPree, composer Mark Arnest, marionette artist David Simpich, dancer Kinsley Bullock, videographers Jane and Bob Neff, the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs, the Colorado Vocal Arts Ensemble, and the Colorado Youth Symphony. On the day the film premiered at the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, many of the contributors sat in the audience.
On November 16, 2019, after the final chords of the film score faded away and the lights in the room were turned on, the moderator walked to the center of the stage and announced that Eric Bransby was in the room. With a gasp, the audience rose and gave him a rousing standing ovation. True to his gentlemanly good nature, Eric tipped his hat in appreciation. It was an exhilarating moment I will never forget.