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Indie filmmaker weaves creativity and rebellion

Faythe Levine's 'Handmade Nation' looks at how crafting has grown into a DIY movement with many colorful threads.

July 14, 2008|Valli Herman | Times Staff Writer

It is fitting that a documentary about the burgeoning movement of do-it-yourself crafters and artists was created by a dedicated crafter, veteran of the Seattle underground music scene and now first-time DIY filmmaker.

In the best tradition of indie artists, Faythe Levine set out in 2006 to film craft fairs, interview artists in their studios and create "Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY Art, Craft, and Design."

She's whittled more than 80 hours of film shot in 15 states into what will be a feature-length documentary when it's done -- she hopes in time for next year's film festivals.

But for now, Levine, in the best tradition of indie filmmakers, calls her project "a labor of love financed by credit cards," which is another way of saying she needs more cash to finish postproduction.

That's why she's headed to Los Angeles on Saturday to hold a silent-auction fundraiser.

Angie Myung and Ted Vadakan, owners of L.A.-based Poketo, a brand of artist-designed apparel, accessories and home-decor goods, are hosting the event at their downtown studio.

Levine, speaking from her home in Milwaukee, where she operates the Paper Boat Boutique & Gallery, said she also aims to broaden awareness of the film beyond the Midwest.

"I don't want the film to be tagged as a small, Milwaukee production," she said.

Indeed, the aesthetics of the indie craft movement have infiltrated high fashion (witness Rodarte's spidery hand-knit dresses for fall and spring's tie-dye and batik trends), and crafters are so numerous, they're filling knit- and yarn-centric cruises and tours.

Los Angeles, of course, is a center of the DIY and craft movements, and Levine filmed a number of local artisans, including craft fair organizer Jenny Ryan, clothing designer Christine Haynes and the owners of Silver Lake's ReForm School boutique, Billie Lopez and Tootie Maldonado.

A 20-minute rough cut of the film offers a glimpse of the wit and diversity she captured: There's Knitta, a Houston "tagging" crew that knits over utility poles and parking meters; Whitney Lee, an Austin, Texas, textile artist who makes latch-hook rugs with images of women in pornography to make a statement about how women are walked on; and ReForm School's Lopez and Maldonado, who say their boutique represents another way for women to create businesses and be self-supporting.

Many crafters, Levine found, were drawn to their hobbies, which ultimately became their careers, by shared motivations.

"I think people are tired of the massive amounts of sameness that exist at the mall," she said. "You know that when you are walking down the street that you're the only person to have this fantastic, original, personal item."

Many of the pieces make a political statement, and the subversive themes appealed to Levine, who spent her teens exploring Seattle's underground punk scene and the Olympia, Wash., riot grrrl community and her adulthood traveling the world, living communally in large groups, working in collectives and always, she says, making art.

Though Levine had been connecting with other crafters online, it wasn't until she attended Chicago's Renegade Craft Fair in 2003 that she understood the size and influence of the scene.

"No one was documenting what was going on," Levine said. "It was a bigger cultural community and it was leaking into mass media. They were starting to realize there was a demographic and a market there.

"I wanted to make sure to capture what was happening from an insider's perspective," Levine said.

That point of view has been invaluable. Her eight-minute clip, at www.handmadenationmovie.com, led Levine and her assistant producer, Cortney Heimerl, to a deal with Princeton Architectural Press, which will release a companion book of the same title in November.

The movement's effect on mass culture may seem inevitable, but Levine also hopes to capture the intellectually provocative character of the artists and how they use craft to create awareness about social issues.

"It's not," she says, "just girls making cute stuff and selling it."

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valli.herman@latimes.com

The Handmade Nation Silent Art Auction is from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday at Poketo headquarters, 510 S. Hewitt St., No. 506, Los Angeles. The first 50 guests will receive bags of handmade crafts and art. A film clip will be screened at 7 p.m.

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