A drawer-full of wood-cut type at the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wis., featured in Typeface.
Typeface was born out of an interest in design and visual culture, a love of the Midwest and the desire to make a meaningful social-issue documentary that was also a work of art.
My husband Matt and I were coming back from a wedding in Door County when we saw a highway sign for Two Rivers' famous ice cream sundaes. As we ambled about the town with our desserts, we saw a large factory with giant wooden letters outside. Intrigued, we entered and discovered the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum. Once inside we were just blown away by the collection and the space, and initially the thought was: this should really be documented. After looking into it further, I realized there was a more complicated story there. Some friends and I went up there to shoot a few times, things clicked into place, and it seemed the perfect collaboration for my first film. Over time it grew into this hour-long Kartemquin Films documentary.
I became fascinated with exploring the changing importance of analog technologies in our digital age. There is a theory that as we sit at our computers all day long, in the off hours, tactile and sensual experiences become all the more important to us. People are craving things with texture that they can hold in their hands, whether they're knitting or playing guitar. Then there's the whole nostalgia factor: LPs vs. iIpod, film vs. video, letterpress vs. inkjet. With these thoughts in mind, I reached out to people in the graphic design, letterpress, printing history and craft communities. I spent a lot of time on the Internet getting to know the subject matter and the intellectual and artistic leaders in related fields.
Some of the questions I began to ask were, how have the value and purpose of older printing methods changed as our society has transitioned into a digital age? How is contemporary graphic art influenced by the history of the art form itself? In the film, we try to explore questions about what to preserve, how to preserve it, and why it's worth the effort.
I guess one of the motivating forces was the desire to explore how our culture is transitioning from analog to digital -- what are the positive and negative consequences?
The film took about four years to make. It was a team effort, with crucial support from the crew, the staff of Kartemquin Films, the graphic design community and the folks of Two Rivers. Trying to balance all of our different story strands in a 60-minute piece was very challenging -- lots of long hours spent in the editing room, testing one combination of scenes, and then another, trying to get it just right. In the end, we're very proud of the film we made, and it's been wonderful to watch it connect with audiences around the globe -- in theaters, at schools and museums and on the web. To witness a group of people become engrossed in the same material that moves you as a filmmaker is an incredible experience.
Artists from all over the world have rallied behind the project. Just a few weeks ago a young designer in the UK created a series of works inspired by the film, from posters to time lapse animation. It's been amazing to see the creative work coming out of the community, inspired by conversations around the film. In general, meeting the graphic design/type community has been amazing. They've been very welcoming and I've learned an immense amount! Also, as a filmmaker and a design enthusiast, witnessing the museum's blossoming has made me very happy and hopeful.