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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Interview with Director Douglass Stewart jr. for Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future (2019)

Interview with Director Douglass Stewart jr. for Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future (2019)

Known for his work in TV with the Academy Awards, the Emmys and The Screen Actors Guild Awards, editor and producer Douglass M. Stewart Jr. takes the director's chair in his breakthrough documentary feature: 'Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future' (2018), which tells the story of the eponymous unsung architect and painter who has influenced and inspired for generations, yet whose name remains virtually unknown. In architecture, Chesley is known for having worked on the Golden Gate Bridge and the Chrysler Building. In film, he worked on classics like 'Citizen Kane' (1941) and ‘Destination Moon’ (1950) as a matte artist. His art influenced landmark films like Stanley Kubrick’s  '2001: A Space Odyssey' (1968) with his transcendent paintings of space and the solar system, which were then unequaled and revolutionary. Produced, written, and directed by Douglass M. Stewart Jr., co-produced by space artist Ron Miller and Bonestell historian Melvin Schuetz, and edited by Kristina Hays and Doug Scott, the film is currently making its international film festival tour, having recently screened at the 2019 Sonoma International Film Festival.

In an interview with Douglass, here is what he had to say:


Coming from being a TV editor and producer, was it difficult to direct your first film?

DOUGLASS: This was the most challenging and complicated project I've ever undertaken, primarily because of the amount of research that had to go into it and the time it took to get all of the interviews that I needed, not to mention all the footage and film clips that were needed as well. What made this both easier and more difficult was that I was wearing a lot of hats, but the bottom line was, I was the one who was in charge of everything, which made it kind of nice. I traveled across the country to make this film. I faced the same difficulties that just about every documentary director encounters. For example, when you're on location, sound, weather and lighting always present issues, but I feel very lucky to have gotten all the great footage that I set out to get.


When did you first learn about Chesley and decide you must tell his story?

DOUGLASS: I was a young man in my early teens when I first saw Chesley's artwork in books and science fiction magazines. Years later, I wondered if anyone had done a film on Chesley, and I felt surely that somebody had. When I had the time in my career to investigate, I discovered that no one had done one and no one was doing one. In 2014, I set out on a 3 1/2 year journey to make the film. All documentaries take a lot of time to make and this one was no exception.


Why do you suppose Chesley is not as famous a modern artist as Botero, for example?

DOUGLASS: One reason may be that Chesley was not a publicity hound, nor was he a grandstander. While he made a name for himself when he was alive, he didn't turn himself into a business. I think his ambitions were just to do what he loved to do best, which was paint the future.


Art and painting have influenced some of the greatest iconic films of all time (Star Wars, 2001, Alien, Citizen Kane and more). Why has using great art to inspire films stopped being a trend?

DOUGLASS: Hollywood films often get caught in a rut creatively. Somebody makes a successful film, which inspires a thousand copycats. It's only when audiences and filmmakers get tired of making the same old thing that something new can happen. Hopefully we are approaching that point, and the future could be very exciting. George Lucas blew everyone out of the water with Star Wars, and essentially what he did was reinvent and make better a kind of film that has been around since the beginning of motion pictures. We need that kind of creative and visionary force to establish the next breakthrough that changes everything.


Have you managed to find a distributor for the film?

DOUGLASS: The film has been extremely well-received wherever it has played: conventions, film festivals, theatrical movies houses like the Roxie in San Francisco. We continually get requests to screen the film from around the country and around the world. I am hopeful that we will attract the right distributor that will make this film available to everyone who wants to see it.


Your film has been on the festival circuit. How have people reacted to it?

DOUGLASS: One amazing thing that happens is that people thank me for making the film before they've actually seen it! There are a lot of Bonestell fans out there, and they are very grateful in their comments after they've seen the film. Generally, everyone who comes in to see the film, winds up being captivated by it. Audiences stick around for the Q&A, which often includes people who appear in the film.


You screened at SIFF in March. How was that experience?

DOUGLASS: Screening at the Sonoma International Film Festival was a wonderful experience! This film festival was the first time that Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt (Star Wars, E.T., Wall-E) participated in the Q&A. Ben appears in my film and brings up many important influences Bonestell had on Hollywood. Also, at SIFF, something interesting happened. One of the audience members was Apollo IX astronaut Rusty Schweickart. He was a Bonestell fan beginning in his youth and really wanted to see the film. His reactions were so positive that he wound up coming up and participating in our Q&A. He had wonderful things to say about the film, which echoed the audience's feelings. I will never forget that screening!


Will you direct again? What will you be working on next?

DOUGLASS: I will move on to new projects, but my current mission is to make sure the film gets proper distribution before going on to the next project. We have 13 amazing bonus features. They include material that we weren't able to put in the film, as well as perspectives from people who aren't in the film, people like co-producers Ron Miller and Melvin Schuetz. There's also a great piece from science fiction author and physicist Gregory Benford commenting on Chesley Bonestell's atomic bomb paintings.

Interview with Director Douglass Stewart jr. for Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future (2019)

Douglass M. Stewart Jr. directing. 


Interview by Vanessa McMahon


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