"Mr. Smith's Peach Seeds" filmmaker Stewart Copeland talks complicated relationships with art and the moment when he discovered he should make documentaries.
Was there a moment in the film that was particularly rewarding for you to shoot?
I really liked filming cutaway shots around the farm -- the trees, the fields, the cows. Filming a subject is always great, but there is a special challenge to shooting nature. Cody Stokes was operating the camera and we had those conversations that I love, like, "Should I film this patch of grass or that one?" or "How close can I get to that cow before it notices I'm filming it?"
Which filmmakers inspired you to get behind the lens?
I had a class in film school where we went around the room and read scripts we had written. After everyone finished, the professor stood up and said, "All of you should go make documentaries because NONE OF YOU have any idea how the world works!" It was harsh, but I also knew it was true.
Could you list three films that all independent film supporters should take the time to see?
"Sherman's March" by Ross McElwee, "I Think This is the Closest to How the Footage Looked" by Yuval Hameiri and Michal Vaknin, "Weather Diaries 1-6" by George Kuchar.
How did you discover Roger Smith and his unique craft?
I was at the opening of a photography exhibition called "Tradition: Tennessee Lives and Legacies." It was a collection of portraits featuring rural and traditional artists in Tennessee. Another documentary I made, "Let Your Feet Do The Talkin'," was playing as part of the exhibit and while I was waiting for the screening to start I saw a photo of Roger Smith. In the picture Roger was leaning over a diorama of a baseball stadium. Every player on the field, every car in the parking lot and every spectator in the bleachers ñ there were more than a hundred in all ñ was carved out of a peach seed. I looked up Roger in the phonebook the next day and the following weekend we began making the film.
What does Mr. Smith's ability to make incredible pieces of art out of an unexpected material tell viewers about the nature of creation and art?
Roger has a funny love/hate relationship with his art that I connected to. In the film he says, "I've always wanted to draw and paint... play instruments... that's real art." It can be difficult for artists like Roger to recognize their work as "real art" when their creative methods and mediums are so different from those of traditional art. Since Roger is a self-taught and rural artist, there isn't the same kind of artistic community you might find in a major city. That kind of isolation can cause an artist to doubt how they work or question the merit of what they make. Like I said, I really relate to that feeling. I've sat for hours by myself in a creek bed waiting to film a leaf drop into a puddle and wondered, "Am I doing this right? Is this what filmmakers do? Is this worth it?"
Roger's story is inspiring to me because he just works through the doubt. He laughs and moves on. He keeps on carving because even though it might seem weird to some, including himself, it means a lot to others. Toward the end of the film Roger says, "I guess I've probably stayed with peach seeds longer than anything and the only reason is people keep urging me," and then we see a letter his mother wrote him shortly before she passed away. It says how much she loved the peach seed he carved for her and how much she loves him too. I don't know about you, but I would carve a million peach seeds to have a note like that. Often, the process of making art doesn't feel "artistic." To quote Roger again, "You take a peach seed, stick it in your pocket and work on it a little bit. If you don't lose it you'll finally get it finished." It's just work and time. It's how cities get built, movies get made and seeds get carved. But even though there is nothing magical about creating art, there something really special about sharing it, and that's what makes the work worthwhile.