Multidisciplinary artist Judith G. Levy’s film on envy may resonate with a few artists and others who struggle with their own envious feelings.
In contrast and almost with a sort of wink and nod from Levy, the process to make the short film represented the epitome of benevolence and a spirit of collaboration. “It was interesting to consider this topic as I gained lots of support. All over, this is such a supportive, cooperative and collaborative community,” she says.
NV in KC: a Story about Artists and Envy in Kansas City started with Levy receiving an Andy Warhol Foundation Rocket Grant award. The program, made possible by Charlotte Street Foundation and the KU Spencer Museum of Art, with funding from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, “fuels the energy of the Kansas City regional visual arts community by encouraging and supporting work that is innovative and
inventive and engages an audience outside of established arts venues, museums, theaters, art galleries or arts districts. The grants enable artists to take new risks with their work …”
Levy developed the full script and had many of the more than 30 performers and crew already in mind. Some were artists, musicians, actors and neighbors she already knew. Then she tapped some arts leaders in town to provide some of the expert voices for the story and to create documentary-like interviews that capture the complexity of a challenging emotion, Levy says. “I play an artist, Lee J. Ross, who is working on a conceptual art project about envy, and in spite of its limitations, my character sees her project as a worthy one. Throughout the course of the film, Lee J., inadvertently upsets her friends, when she was hoping to enlighten them.” “The topic of envy is a challenging one,” says Levy, “and that is why I wanted to create something that is entertaining, has humor and also addresses an emotion we rarely talk about.”
The fictional artist that Levy has created shares her home, her studio, her friends, her therapy sessions, throughout the film, as she tries to understand why her project isn’t achieving what she’d hoped it would accomplish. The arts leaders that perform in this film are Dr. Julián Zugazagoitia, CEO and president of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Sherry Leedy, director at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art; Raechell Smith, H&R Block Artspace director/curator; Spencer Museum director Saralyn Reece Hardy; and Rachael Cozad, former director of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and current director of Rachael Cozad Fine Art.
Levy filmed from February 2012 and into the fall, working around people’s schedules and her other obligations. The film is required to have a public showing to fulfill part of the Rocket Grant requirements. To that end, Levy is offering cast and crew screenings that are open to the public on May 2 at 7:30 p.m. at the Tivoli in Westport and on May 9 at 7 p.m. at the Lawrence Arts Center. The events are free, but reservations are required for the May 2 screening. To receive free reservations, visit www.nvinkc.com.
“I felt like I had to define the words envy and jealousy, and I do this in the film. It’s really interesting to explore those two,” she says. “I don’t want to give too much away, but there is some drama in the mix of this invented narrative.” Along with Levy, who stars in the film, some of the local actors who have key roles are De De DeVille, Carol Holstead, Erin McGrane, Shannon Michalski, Garry Noland, and Jaimie Warren. “I consider this a community filmmaking project.”
Levy says that she was inspired to make this film, because, “I wanted to write a story that would be entertaining while it explores a difficult, universal emotion. The challenge is to learn to use envy and make it productive. Sure envy can make us feel badly about ourselves, because it often causes feelings of resentment and shame, but it also can be a tool to identify goals.”
Levy says she is “grateful to the Andy Warhol Foundation for funding Rocket Grants and to The Charlotte Street Foundation and The Spencer Museum of Art for administering this program.” She also believes that she “would not have pushed herself to make a film that is almost an hour long, without the support and funding.”
Exploring emotion among a wide range of people is nothing new to Levy. Last year, she had a sort of short film integrated into a piece of art. A kitchen table is set with a place for person to sit in and 18 different people greet the participant, exploring culture and the association to food. The piece is titled You Never Dine Alone.
“No matter what I am working on, I want to explore challenging issues,” she says. “I want to look outward toward things like how our cities grow or racism. Then I want to turn inward and look at how we got to be who we are as a culture and as a nation. Then the work has to be accessible and engaging. Getting the Rocket Grant helped so much so I could address the issue of envy.”
NV in KC could be entered into film festivals, she says. In 2012, her short video, On the Seventh Day, was screened at seven national and international film festivals, including the New York City International Film Festival. She has a studio in the Crossroads and is currently working on an installation, Memory Cloud, for a fall group exhibition at the University of Rochester in New York. She is also continuing her ongoing Panoramic Postcard series. “These postcards are an amalgamation of other postcards, but with a commentary that the viewer has to see. I am hoping for an array of 12 cards when I am done,” she says. “And I have a kernel of an idea for another short film.”