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'Tomi Ungerer Story' Goes Far Out

"Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story," which combines traditional documentary storytelling with original animation culled from eight decades of art from the renegade children’s book author and illustrator, opens June 14 in NYC At Lincoln Plaza Cinema & June 21 in LA at Landmark's Nuart Theatre, with more cities to follow.

One man’s wild, lifelong adventure of testing societal boundaries through his use of subversive art, Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story combines traditional documentary storytelling with original animation culled from eight decades of art from the renegade children’s book author and illustrator.

Using a historical palette of 20th century events to paint an artist’s epic yet controversial life story, the film offers a retrospective of Ungerer’s life and art, and ponders the complexities and contradictions of a man who, armed with an acerbic wit, an accusing finger and a razor sharp pencil, gave visual representation to the revolutionary voices during one of the most tantalizing and dramatic periods in American history.

Coming of age under the German occupation of France in World War II, Tomi Ungerer produced some of the most iconic imagery of the 1960s and ‘70s. From his striking visual commentaries protesting American involvement in Vietnam to the many beloved characters of his children’s books, he is admired worldwide for the influence his work has had on a variety of art forms, and for his contribution to children’s literature. “No one, I dare say, no one was as original,” Maurice Sendak says in the film. “Tomi influenced everybody.” Yet the same factors that vaulted him to meteoric success – fearless creativity, absolute outspokenness, fierce independence – also made him a lightning rod for controversy and the object of intense malice.

In Far Out, we meet an artist who creates boundary-exploring erotica and provocative political art, while penning best-selling children’s literature with mischievous wit and childlike innocence. He arrives on American shores eager for economic opportunities and new creative freedom, and he leaves having offended even the tolerant and open-minded as he pushes past the limits of propriety. He becomes a broadly appealing artist and Madison Avenue success story, a singular artist steeped in piquant ideas and thoughts, yet even his most recognized books are now out of print. While Ungerer is by no means a victim, he is an early casualty of the so-called cultural wars—a man who didn’t fit neatly into the left or the right, and who managed to offend and fascinate people of all political and cultural persuasions. Once the most famous children’s book author in America, Tomi Ungerer became persona non grata in this country, exiled to the professional abyss, never to be heard from again.

The film also explores Ungerer’s life post-America, when he retreated to Nova Scotia in the hopes of finding himself. We see an artist “dropping out” and reinventing himself by adopting an agrarian lifestyle. Ultimately, his search leads him to Ireland, where he discovers this island’s natural beauty and its resilient people, and through both finds a degree of inner peace, not to mention renewed critical and commercial success late in life.

Ungerer’s artwork, drawn from an archive of thousands of original images, is the beating heart of the film’s visual style. What makes Far Out innovative is how the archive is used as a narrative tool. Through a number of techniques, from stop motion to 3D animation, the filmmaking team animated hundreds of images from this trove to help tell the story, bringing his childhood sketches, advertising campaigns, anti-War posters, cartoons, works of erotica and children’s books into motion. In addition, archival footage and photographs are selectively interspersed throughout the film, providing historical context but never dominating Ungerer’s original imagery.

While Tomi’s on-camera interviews provide the backbone of the film’s narrative, writers, critics and other artists from various fields are interviewed to put his words and actions under a discerning microscope. Secondary interviews include: the late, great Maurice Sendak, legendary children’s book author and close friend; Jules Feiffer, syndicated Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and friend; Patrick Skene Catling, British children’s book author and critic; Michael Patrick Hearn, American literary scholar specializing in children’s literature and its illustration; Steven Heller, art director, journalist and critic for the New York Times Book Review; Burton Pike, Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center, former Fulbright student and long-time friend; and others.

While Far Out Isn't Far Enough is his theatrical directorial debut, Brad Bernstein is a writer, producer and director who has spent the last fourteen years creating long-form documentary production for TV. He is currently the staff writer for VH1’s Emmy Award winning doc series Behind The Music and has also produced and written five episodes of the series, a sixth of which (Ludacris) is currently in production through his production company Corner of the Cave Media (Miami, FL). Brad is also co-director and writer of Real Change: Artists For Education, a one-hour special airing nationally on CBS O&O's on April 23rd, 2013 that includes interviews and performances with Pitbull, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Lady Antebellum, Jason Mraz, Quincy Jones, Matthew Morrison and LMFAO. Brad is also currently directing and producing a ten-camera, live concert and documentary adaption called Jazz and the Philharmonic which features Bobby McFerrin, Chick Corea, Dave Grusin and Terence Blanchard that will air nationally on PBS in January, 2014. Brad's shop, Corner of the Cave Media, is co-owned by Far Out co-producer and editor Rick Cikowski, and Far Out editor/animator Brandon Dumlao.

Far Out Isn't Far Enough opens June 14 in NYC at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and June 21 in LA at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre.

Source: First Run Features

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Jennifer Wolfe is Director of News & Content at Animation World Network.