In The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, Sam Green builds a movie from scratch. Instead of presenting the life of the titular 20th-century theorist and engineer as a traditional, fully finished and fine-tuned documentary, the director—who earned an Oscar nomination in 2004 for The Weather Underground—pieces the film together in front of an audience. He narrates from the stage, cuing images and footage from his laptop, while beloved indie rockers Yo La Tengo provide the soundtrack, right there in person. Green calls the project, which he brings to the Time-Based Art Festival this week, a "live documentary"—though if you think it sounds more like an elaborate PowerPoint presentation, Green won't get offended.
"It is a PowerPoint presentation," he tells Willamette Week over the phone from New York. "It's just a kick-ass PowerPoint presentation."
WW: Why Buckminster Fuller?
Sam Green: Last year, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art got in touch with me. They were doing a show about Fuller, and they asked me to do a live documentary about him. They mentioned that at Stanford University were Buckminster Fuller's papers. His collection of papers is the largest there is belonging to a single person. Any telegram, photo, letter—everything that came over his desk, he saved. I love archives and I love going through people's papers. I quickly became completely obsessed with it, and really fascinated by him. And the more I looked through his stuff and the more I learned about him, the more I saw him as a complex but very relevant figure, especially today.
How is he relevant today?
Starting in the '20s, his message was pretty consistent: Through smart design, by doing more with less and building things more efficiently, we could save resources. And if we could distribute resources more fairly, there'd be no more wars. His idea was that through design, we could solve basic human problems. From very early on, he made this point over and over again. In some ways, he's more relevant now than ever. The tenor of our time is cutbacks and belt-tightening and scarcity, and he's a great reminder that it doesn't have to be the case. The reality is there are plenty of resources, we just don't distribute them well, or fairly. That, to me, is a radical idea.
Why do the documentary live?
As a filmmaker today, you have to accept that people are going to be watching your work on their phone or on their laptop while checking their email, or in any number of particular contexts. I don't have anything against the Internet or downloading stuff or watching QuickTimes, but the work I make—I don't want to be too precious about it, but I do hope people really give themselves to it and are subsumed by the experience. So if you don't want your work to be experienced on an iPad or iPod, you've got to make something that can't be engaged in that way. I like this form because it holds on to the magic of cinema—that feeling when you're in a theater with strangers and the lights go down. I love that feeling. Some say that a movie in a theater or a movie watched on your iPad on the subway is all the same movie, but I profoundly disagree with that. The context is hugely significant in shaping your experience of a work.
As an artist, what inspiration do you draw from Fuller?
I see him as a utopian. I mean that in the best sense of the word. He's someone who really did believe this world could be radically different, and radically better. I wish that was in the air a little more these days.
SEE IT: NW Film Center presents The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller at Washington High School, 531 SE 14th Ave. 6:30 and 8:30 pm Wednesday, Sept. 12. $20 for Silver Screen members, $25 general admission. Tickets available at pica.org/tba.