There are things that just turn me into a complete nerd --cameras, analog synthesizers and ink pens being three of many quasi-obsessions I've picked up through the years. Near the top of the list that gives me tremendous joy is anything connected to traditional letterpress printing.
If I'm around letterpress equipment or product, don't expect me to say much as I'll be lost in a haze of contemplative appreciation. If you feel the same way, a documentary from director Justine Nagan entitled Typeface is a must-see screening.
Typeface is set among the dusty shelves of the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wis., while also following a group of young designers in Chicago who work with letterpress equipment despite having access to the latest technology. There's an increasing groundswell of letterpress collectives and companies popping up around the nation because it offers a style of creativity that computers cannot.
"We work in front of our screens all day," Nagan said. "Computer screens are flat and fast while a letterpress is deliberate work that requires more thought and time. Some designers want to slow down and think about what they are doing. Plus, it's so pleasing to see the final result on the page and many feel it's a more authentic way to design."
Typeface nicely blends elements of sadness into its story as the scenes in Two Rivers among the empty museum ache with the lonely isolation that plagues many small towns. Since Two Rivers is so far from the urban areas that are reclaiming this traditional design, few come. If the museum was in a larger city, such as Chicago, it would be a Mecca, but instead it sits quiet and ignored most of the time. Nagan discovered the museum by fortune.
"I've always had an interest in design, but my husband and I stumbled across the museum by accident after we stopped in Two Rivers for ice cream while driving back to Chicago after attending a wedding," she said. "We saw the sign for the museum, went in and stayed for a couple of hours. We both thought it was such a beautiful place with this great history and story to tell."
The result is Typeface, a love letter to a form of creativity the modern world has left behind, yet artists still stubbornly cling to. The documentary has screened at film festivals in over 50 cities around the world, across Europe, Asia, South America and the United States. Nagan seems surprised that her Midwestern-set documentary has struck such a chord with viewers from as far away as Sri Lanka, but admits that her goal was to inspire people who saw the documentary.
"We wanted the film to serve as a call to action for artists to support the causes you believe in, whether that was the letterpress typeset design movement that exists in a lot of cities or something more localized," she said.
Typeface screens at Philbrook on Thursday, April 21 at 5:30pm and features a Q&A with Nagan after the film via Skype. Prior to the screening, Tulsans can customize their own poster using various wood types. For more information, visit philbrook.org.
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