Why did we make Paradise Garden?

July 26, 20140 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 3.28.29 PMAs filmmakers, we strive to tell stories that are compelling for audiences, tales that touch your heart and leave an imprint – a lasting impression.  Every once in a while, a story comes along that is important to our shared history and also the lives of many people.  As a journalist, I recognized the story of Paradise Garden and the legacy of Southern folk artist Howard Finster, as a powerful one.  The core of the film is the story of how compassion and perseverance can inspire art on so many levels through time.  A film like this one fosters change while preserving our artistic heritage, in turn supporting an entire generation of people to be inspired by art.  It is rare to uncover a story that has a lasting historical impact and promotes a positive message.  Our film about Paradise Garden and Howard Finster’s legacy is important for all of those reasons.

Paradise Garden is a documentary film that chronicles the renovation of Paradise Garden and examines the legacy of the legendary folk artist Howard Finster.  The film shows the world how art can thrive outside of museums and galleries, in ordinary places and everyday objects.  Howard Finster took what others might deem trash or obsolete and transformed it into something contemplative.  He opened Paradise Garden for the world to enjoy, a true testament that Art comes to life, when people are able to interact with it.  Paradise Garden proves that ideas are open to exchange in a world that becomes more and more homogeneous.  The film shows the unique relationships that were fostered because of that interaction and how the cycle of artistic inspiration continues.

When I first visited Paradise Garden, I remember looking around, seeing a rusted wagon wheel, old flour sacks in the last stages of decay before turning to dust, and a virtual time capsule preserved in the masonry.   Finster’s garden, his life’s vision, had sadly fallen into disrepair.  Even in the midst of overgrown kudzu and rusty blunt metal objects, it still had a message, and I realized the significance of the Garden.  Jordan Poole said it best on our tour of the Garden when he told me, “This place is not meant to match the draperies to the couch, it is meant to make you think.”  W each subsequent visit to the Garden, it was different.  Every single time I went I saw something new and got a new message.  It is a place that makes you contemplate, almost literally, what you are thinking, because the information you are meant to receive is there, if you stop to look around.

Howard said in an interview that, “This Garden represents the inventions of mankind and the foundation of America, its inventors, and I wanted to show our children how we used to live and pose these inventions.”  It was such a parallel to me to the crisis we face in the United States, as we struggle to reinvent what it is to be American, and the microcosm of that situation in Chattooga County.  When I visited the Garden in disrepair, it was a living example of the loss of industry in that region.  I later found out that it was one of the most economically depressed counties in the United States due to the loss of factories and jobs.  I was captivated by the idea that the county was using art as an economic development tool for stimulus.  We have shown in the film that art is important, even in times of an economic downturn.

The film started as a marketing project for the Paradise Garden Foundation, but it became what we could do with what we had, just like Howard Finster.  We hope this film will help efforts to create sustainability, so that future generations are able to enjoy his work, just as he intended.   You can learn more about the project or find out about the latest screenings and events at www.finsterfilm.com

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