New York-based filmmaker Chiara Clemente has since early childhood been inspired to “visually tell stories”—and with the release this week of her absorbing series of short documentary films, ‘Beginnings’, she is doing just that. Growing up, “tip-toeing around paintings” in her father, the luminary artist Francesco Clemente’s studio, Clemente’s love of art was realised early on and has been the catalyst for her ongoing exploration into identity, culture and the creative process. The seven short films that comprise ‘Beginnings’ act as brief glimpses into the seminal moments of a mixed-bag of inspired and iconic New York-based creatives—Massimo Vignelli, Carolina Herrera, Mario Sorrenti, Yoko Ono, Dan Barber, Carmen De Lavallade and Mickalene Thomas. ‘Beginnings’, created in partnership with the Sundance Channel, is a series of stirring insights, says Clemente, “into that crucial moment that started it all [for an artist].”
Why the theme of ‘Beginning’s’ for these films? The idea for ‘Beginnings’ came to me while I was on the road with ‘Our City Dreams’ – we travelled all over the country screening it, so we had very diverse audiences. What I was most proud of, and what was really inspiring, was that people felt compelled to create after watching the documentary. They seemed to feel a sense of urgency. I felt that was an amazing thing to accomplish – to trigger that kind of motivation in people, so I wanted to do a project dedicated to just that, and so ‘Beginnings’ was born. I think the beginning of anything great is the most inspiring time in people’s lives – when they are starting out and don’t know what the future holds. People feel such nostalgia for these early moments, for the time where their lives and artistic careers began.Â
Why did you choose these subjects? Well, I didn’t want a typical mix of subjects for the series. I didn’t want them to all just be in the arts. So alongside some big names in fashion and art I chose the chef Dan Barber and designer Massimo Vignelli. They are at different ends of the creative spectrum but yet share that same passion and excitement about their careers. None of the people in the films chose 9-5 jobs, they are all risk takers and didn’t take the easy path. Mario Sorrenti I chose because I just love his vibe, and we had worked together before on a project for W Magazine and had a great time. Caroline Herrera always amazed me – early images of her were so glamorous and always intrigued me, and Yoko Ono interested me because there is so much mystery surrounding her despite the fact she has been such a public figure for so long.
Why did you make the films so short and sweet? It was the first time that I’ve worked to such an extreme time-frame—each film was exactly two minutes and thirty seconds. It was an exciting challenge for me. The point was to give people a taste—a brief insight—into that moment, the beginning, of these people’s creative lives. I wasn’t trying to tell their whole story.
What did you learn about these people that surprised you? So many things surprised and inspired me, like finding out how young some of these incredible creatives were when they started out. Yoko Ono creating original compositions on piano at age four; Mario deciding to be an artist as a child; Massimo designing his first object at 14; Dan Barber inspired by his earliest memories of his grandmother’s farm.
What is it you love most about being a filmmaker? I love being a filmmaker because I can’t imagine doing anything else—it has my heart. I love being a storyteller; to be able to tell the stories of incredible and inspiring people. Sometimes I wish I could play a guitar and make songs, to play alone with just one instrument—but what I do is like being a conductor and working with an entire orchestra. I like finding people to work with as a team, both behind and in front of the camera. I love bringing stories to life, and whether fictional or real, I love getting to know characters.
Do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us? I am currently working on a collaboration with Levi’s, which takes me to six cities around the world in three weeks, focusing on eight young women. This project is such a perfect fit for my sensibility—the brand has such integrity and such an interesting history, and the young women we are filming are all unique and have great stories to tell. It will be screened this December. The seed has also been planted for a narrative feature film, which will be my first, so I’m starting on that as well…