There are many books about filmmakers, but not a lot of films about bookmakers—specifically art bookmakers. Filmmaker James Kennard’s feature documentary, The Book Makers, remedies this with aplomb.
Produced by Mill Valley’s InCA Productions, the hour-long love letter to the printed book is an official selection of this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival and also airs on PBS in the coming weeks. It also marks the feature documentary directorial debut of 31-year-old filmmaker James Kennard, whose film, in part, asks the question, “What should books become in the digital age?”
“They say, anytime a technology goes out of date, it just becomes art,” says Kennard, who studied history at Oxford University before returning to Marin County to join the family business (InCA Productions was founded in the ’80s by his father, lauded documentary filmmaker David Kennard).
The filmmaker interviewed a raft of artists, authors, collectors and historians who are preserving both the artistry and craft of bookmaking. They include Bay Area luminaries Dave Eggers and Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket. Also included are Berkeley-based artists fine-press printer Peter Koch—who made the 30-pound lead book pictured above—and artist Julie Chen, who re-invents the physical form of the book to enhance the reader’s tactile experience.
Another Bay Area personality who features prominently in The Book Makers is Oakland’s Mark Sarigianis, who sets out to print a limited run of Charles Bukowski’s cult novel Ham on Rye using the traditional metal type process that leaves absolutely no room for error. The arc of his story is as beguiling as it is nerve-racking, and it begs the question as to whether or not book-making in the Digital Age is a quixotic undertaking. Spoiler alert: It isn’t.
The film proves that digital isn’t the death knell for books so much as a herald of their emancipation as mere content-delivery systems. Books aren’t just coexisting in harmony with a digital world, they’re actively redefining and re-imagining what books can be.
This is proved by the sheer variety of books showcased at the CODEX Book Fair in San Francisco—a moment in the film that neatly binds its various stories together. Kennard acknowledges the narrative device with a laugh and admits, “Oldest trick in the book.”
“The Book Makers” airs at 8pm, Oct. 17 on Northern California Public Media (KPJK), and at 4pm, Oct. 27 on KQED WORLD and again at 8pm, Nov. 13 on KQED channel 9. The film will stream as part of the Mill Valley Film Festival October 9–18. thebookmakersfilm.com.