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A Life's Work

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DL:The first interview was the most difficult, with the architect Paolo Soleri. The film is about people who will not complete their work in their lifetime, and I had heard from a few people that Soleri became angry when he was asked, “when will Arcosanti be finished?” And yet, I had to ask. I hemmed and hawed, and he shook his head and with an “I knew it” smile on his face, said, “That’s the end of the interview.” We both laughed and he graciously evaded answering and we continued the interview. The sun shines again: the shame goes away. After all, it seems that I have done something good, not bad. I even feel a certain pride, as a mother, that is. My writer-self feels nothing at all. It can't afford to. I have about as much interest in babies as I have in cavity-wall insulation. You might feel moved to describe the moments of desperation that follow nine hours of incessant wailing. Frankly, you are a self-obsessed bore: the embodiment of the Me! Me! Me! attitude which you so resent in small children. And everything those children say or do is - in your mind - really about you. Sooner or later, you end up in family therapy, because it has never occurred to you that it might be an idea to simply bring children up to be happy, or to consider happiness as an option for yourself ... Talk about navel-gazing." What is the source of the idea? How did the story develop from the idea? And how did the story evolve into a screenplay? Why do this story? Do you have a writing process?

Cusk anatomises motherhood as Montaigne anatomised friendship or Robert Burton anatomised melancholy ... Some alchemy of her prose renders this most fascinating and boring of all subjects graceful, eloquent, modest and true." Another review, in a different paper: this one long and articulate where the first was brief and blunt. David Licata (DL):I became excited by the idea in 2004, Wolfgang and I began shooting in 2005, Andy and I shot the final interview in 2017. I spent 2017 to 2019 editing and fundraising for post-production. The film was completed in 2020. Pure misery to read. From the way she writes about her first child, God alone only knows how she allowed herself to bear a second."DL:Paolo Soleri was the first to agree to be in the film, and the first interview was with him, and the first footage was of Arcosanti. DL:After watching the film, I hope the viewer recognizes that the path of the subjects in the film is similar to their own, which I hope will prompt them to ask themselves “What will my legacy be?” What are your personal experiences putting on all these hats/responsibilities (simultaneously)? Tell us about story, writing, and production? Cusk and her family move from London to a university town. She encounters older parents and a more patriarchal culture. Her new acquaintances all ask her, “What does your husband do?” After a disastrous visit to a playgroup at which both Cusk and her baby find themselves bullied by their peers, Cusk rebels against the fact that “conscription to the world of orthodox parenthood demands all the self-abnegation, the surrender to conformity, the relish for the institutional, that the term implies…Here the restaurants had high chairs and changing facilities, the buses wide doors and recesses for prams.”

It was, perhaps, our isolation - idyllic though it was - that sealed these events in a profound melancholy from which I subsequently found myself unable to escape. The world became a bleaker place. I felt angry and defensive and violated. Despite the number of people who had praised and admired it, and the letters I received to that effect from readers, I regretted, constantly, the fact that I had written A Life's Work. I had been asked many times - am still asked - by journalists barely able to contain their excitement lest I say "yes", whether I regretted having my children. What meaning could such an admission possibly have? My children are living, thinking human beings. It isn't in my power to regret them, for they belong to themselves. It is these kinds of questions that are the true heresy, not my refusal to answer them. But my books are my own, to approve of or regret as I see fit. DL:Marketing is very important; without it how would people see your film? I’ve always thought of film festivals as the best marketing tool for an independent film. I think it is a rare independent project that succeeds without showing at film festivals. Compounding all this is sleeplessness. For month after month, Cusk cannot sleep through the night. Soon the “muddled nights began to attain an insomniac clarity. My insides grew gritty, my nerves sharp…I no longer slept in the intervals, but merely rested silently like some legendary figure, itinerant, doughty, and far from home. The reservoir of sleep I had accumulated through my life had run dry. I was living off air and adrenalin. Mercury ran through my veins." David Licata (DL):I’m David Licata. I’m a filmmaker and a writer of fiction and nonfiction. I live on the Upper West Side of New York City.Financing: Grants from the Puffin Foundation, the Yip Harburg Foundation, Indiegogo fundraiser, and self. DL:I have a short documentary I’d like to make. The pandemic is trying to make sure the film never gets made. I read this sitting in the foot-high summer grass that grew through the terrace, above a wild sea of rhododendron bushes. I didn't know what to make of it. Which people? Why would they be angry? What did it have to do with them? A day or two later my sister called. Don't listen to anything they say, she said. It's a very good book. Just ignore them. David Licata (DL):Wearing so many hats was frustrating, and I often wished I had an assistant. But just as often wearing all those hats was a valuable learning experience. I was forced to communicate deeply and personally with so many people, and so many different kinds of people–academics, farmers, geneticists, astronomers, architects, city planners, record collectors, DJs, antiquities experts, students, ministers, singers, to name a few. I learned a lot from each of them about their particular fields, and I learned a lot about how to talk with all kinds of people. Paolo Soleri and David Licata in A Life’s Work directed by David Licata Tell us why you chose to write, produce, direct, shoot, cut/edit the movie? Was it financial, chance, or no-budget reason?

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