First Film About Lincoln Memorial Sculptor Daniel Chester French | Berkshire landscapes


STOCKBRIDGE – “Finally!”

Man sitting on gravestone

Filmmaker Eduardo Montes-Bradley likes to get closer to his subject – “When I ‘visited’ French at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord and touched his gravestone, that’s where I ‘promised’ him. that I would make a movie. “

That was Donna Hassler’s exclamation as the first film about Lincoln Memorial sculptor Daniel Chester French goes into production, written, directed and produced by veteran documentary maker Eduardo Montes-Bradley.

“It is surprising that there was no previous documentary,” said Hassler, executive director of the Chesterwood historic house, museum and sculpture garden, which she called “a sleeping giant who needed to be rethought and awakened”.

“My important role here has been to increase the visibility and profile of French and Chesterwood through various traveling exhibitions, articles and a definitive biography,” she said. “A movie was one of those things that waited backstage. Now we are the key advisor on production, and there are a lot of resources here. “

Chesterwood, run by Hassler for 13 years, was French’s home and studio from May to October 1897 until his death in 1931. There he carved the Lincoln Memorial in plaster. The 6-foot-tall sculpture of the seated Lincoln statue was the model used to create the marble version in the nation’s capital and remains a major attraction in the museum’s collection.

Montes-Bradley, with more than 40 titles to his name, wondered if the crowds that flocked to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, were aware of the statue’s origin.

“In September, when I went to interview visitors, no one knew who Daniel Chester French was,” Montes-Bradley told The Eagle from his home in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Hassler agrees: “Most people will say this is their favorite monument, but if you ask them who the sculptor was, they don’t know because people don’t ask that question and they are interested in it. learn more about Lincoln.

She noted that there is no plaque or signage indicating that the sculpture of the seated figure was created by French. Hassler hopes the film will bring “a new perspective to his life, but also to his sensitivity as an artist who has created 100 monuments, starting with ‘The Tiny Man‘at Concord.

Argentinian-American filmmaker Montes-Bradley, 61, has spent the past 13 years in partnership with museums, other cultural institutions and community groups.

Its soberly titled “Daniel Chester French” must be completed in time for the celebration, on May 30, 2022, of the centennial of the Lincoln Memorial. French’s masterpiece will be dedicated again at this Memorial Day event.

Fundraising continues for the film; its world premiere is expected at a location in South Berkshire on Memorial Day weekend, Hassler said.

Montes-Bradley said he was inspired by a suggestion from his friend, collaborator and scholar Daniel Preston, whom he met while working on a documentary on James Monroe, the fifth US president (1817-1825) and the last of the founding fathers. .

The filmmaker visited Chesterwood three times last summer, including a two-week residency at Meadowlark, the sculptor’s second studio later converted into a cottage, accompanied by Preston, for a deep immersion into the sculptor’s life and work.

“I’ve learned over the years that it’s fundamental to rely on the editors for any topic you work on,” said Montes-Bradley. Preston, who edited the Monroe Papers, did the same for French’s letters, papers and notes, working with Michael Richman, the sculptor’s first biographer.

“As I walked through the Chesterwood studio, the house and the woods, it was important for me geographically to understand what kind of place it is, and it was back then,” noted Montes-Bradley. “The whole idea of ​​the French moving to the region was based on his search for a bucolic retreat.”

The Cottager | Chesterwood: Studio, cottage illustrate Daniel Chester French was the decisive man

The filmmaker also focused on the nearby village of Stockbridge of Glendale, a 19th-century industrial center and the site of a paper mill that eventually burned down, as well as a church (now a private home) frequented by French people.

“Finding out more about the Lincoln Memorial introduces you to many different rabbit burrows, because that’s what a documentary is!” said Montes-Bradley.

The film is budgeted at $ 89,250, with over $ 36,000 in major support so far from Chesterwood, which is owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The effort received a boost of $ 20,000 from the Morris and Alma Schapiro Fund of New York City, which resulted from “a drink at the Red Lion Inn with the right person,” Montes-Bradley said.

Moving on to full production, he described “needing a plot, knowing what story I want to tell, and then finding out who the main actors are.”

They include Richman biographer Harold Holzer, the second Abraham Lincoln biographer and scholar, and New Marlborough artist Shawn Fields, who illustrated Linda Booth Sweeney’s children’s book, “Monument Maker: Daniel Chester French and the Lincoln Memorial ”.

The film’s arc will show how the Lincoln Memorial, with its seated sculpture of Lincoln in deep contemplation, became “the sanctuary of American democracy,” Montes-Bradley said, noting his role as a focal point in the struggle for them. civil rights, anti-Vietnam War protests and the feminist movement.

According to the National Park Service, the 24-hour memorial was visited by nearly eight million people a year from 2015 to 2019. A $ 25 million restoration began in 2018 and is nearing completion.

The film will be distributed by Kanopy, an on-demand streaming service aimed at public and university libraries, but also accessible to the general public with a library card or university ID. A 10-minute version is in production for the Chesterwood website, likely by the end of the year, and the completed film will be shown at film festivals and then appear on YouTube later in 2022.

The project is particularly personal for Montes-Bradley, an 11th generation Argentinian descendant of the inhabitants of New England who emigrated there shortly after the publication of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, strengthening the South American nations fighting the powers. European colonial regimes.

It’s a one-man band.

“I’m a bully,” he jokes. The shooting takes place between 1 and 5 a.m. at home, in my pajamas, in front of my computer. This is where the magic happens.

“It will be one of my most successful experiences,” he predicted, “as it coincides with the 100th anniversary of the installation of the Lincoln Memorial. The only challenge here is to be faithful to the man, to the French. I don’t want to betray his courage, his reputation. Sometimes I think maybe I betrayed him by trying to make him famous when he didn’t want to be.

How to be faithful?

“I have to listen very carefully to what his article editors, art historians and biographers think of him, and then draw my own conclusions,” Montes-Bradley said. “If I’m honest with them and with myself, then I think we’re honoring Daniel Chester French.”


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