Tomi Ungerer rocked the editorial and children’s book illustration and advertising establishment in the U.S. from the late fifties through early seventies, and influenced countless conceptual artists and cartoonists. He never faded from view but did leave the U.S. Moving first to Nova Scotia and then to Ireland, he continued to write (including memoirs about his times as farmer in Canada (soon to be republished by Phaidon Press) and as a child under Nazi occupation in Strasbourg, Alsace).
Currently a film is in production from Fools Day Productions titled Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: the Tomi Ungerer Story directed and produced by Brad Bernstein and photographed by Jimmy O’Donnell. The film is unique for the animated sequences of Ungerer’s usually static work. “I’m directing/producing what is, and will be, the only retrospective on Tomi’s life and career. And we’re making the film in a way that will prove unique to any films previously produced on Tomi, and also many docs in general, as we’re animating a large chunk of his art to help tell the story,” says Bernstein. Go here to view a trailer that begins with . . .
“I have the full respect of a white piece of paper, which I then will rape with my drawing or my writing.”
When did you become aware of Ungerer’s work? In article in the Arts section of the New York Times. After reading the article, it was clear that while I didn’t know his name or personal history, I certainly knew his work in an almost subconscious way–his anti-Vietnam posters had made an indelible impression on me from an early age. And that’s what I found most puzzling: how could someone who was seemingly so well known, who left such a distinctive mark on a seminal decade such as the 60’s, who created such iconic imagery, have entirely disappeared in less than half a century? It was that question that prompted me to begin the process of finding out if his story had ever been told on film.
What prompted you to invest so much in making a film about him? When I concluded that nothing had been made in the States (or in Europe that told his entire story), I excitedly reached out to Mr. Ungerer and found a receptive and willing collaborator.
How’s the former l’enfant terrible to work with? Tomi is almost too good to be true. That is, he’s one of the great characters of the 20th century. Love him or hate him, he’s incredibly fun to be around–his combination of childishness and intellectuality is both amusing and frustrating when you are trying to work him. If you get him going on a topic that he’s interested in and one he’s spent time thinking about, then you might get a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat three-hour answer. Conversely, if you catch him unaware and move a few things around in his studio and set up a few lights, his insecurities and fears bubble up to the surface and you’ll get an artist who refuses, or is in capable of, giving you an answer. As Tomi says, “My first feeling in my life that I can trace goes back to fear. Fear of life. And this is good because once you have fear you have to discover courage to survive.” Needless to say, after spending almost three weeks with him shooting at his homes in France and in Ireland, I knew I had something special on my hands.
(See yesterday’s Daily Heller film extra from Veer and CSA Archive here)