The Restoration of "The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein"
20 years since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, this is an important and timely restoration of John Gianvito's ambitious and all too prophetic feature film from 2001
“A work of art and a critical piece of history." – Howard Zinn
The Restoration of "The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein"
Our goal is to raise the funds needed to scan, restore, preserve, and remaster for distribution worldwide THE MAD SONGS OF FERNANDA HUSSEIN, John Gianvito’s (Her Socialist Smile, Profit motive and the whispering wind, Vapor Trails) 2001 feature film about the complex political and social impacts of the First Gulf war.
We will scan the original camera negative, and, working closely with the filmmaker, we will restore both picture and audio (the original 16mm mix mags have been lost). When that work is completed we will preserve the digital files on long-term data storage media and deposit copies along with the original negative with the Harvard Film Archive.
Historian Howard Zinn has noted that THE MAD SONGS OF FERNANDA HUSSEIN contains the profound benefits of foresight from a past we must not forget, a past that we must continue to question and seek to know better. In that spirit, our goal is to complete our work by March 31, 2023 in anticipation of programs examining the 20th anniversary of the second Gulf War in 2023 as well as the importance of revisiting both wars and their fallout as it is felt now.
These new masters will be submitted to film festivals worldwide and delivered to the American distributor, Grasshopper Film. Finally, to help jump-start and support special screenings, including festivals, and the distribution of the film this project will generate drafts of marketing and outreach tools.
Why we need your help
Films like MAD SONGS are too often ignored when it comes to restoration and preservation. It is not a commercial film. It is an important personal, political statement whose power has grown over time. But the fact that it is well-respected does not translate into restoration funding. That's where you come in.
Watchmaker Films seeks to make restoration for films like The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein, films that absolutely need restoration and preservation, more so than most commercial projects, affordable. Working closely with our partners we are able to restore a film at 1/3 the costs of a typical restoration, but these costs are hard costs we need to meet.
We are currently seeking pre-sales, festival screenings and working closely with the American distributor to create a long-term strategy for the film's release in North America. We are seeking international distributors and screenings at festivals and events that will help build larger audiences for the film.
Every donation will go toward every aspect of this endeavor. Below we have included a history of the film and its importance, information about the team, our partners, the screening plan for the film, and exactly how your money will be spent.
We want to thank everyone who donates, shares or reads about our project. All support is much appreciated!
About the Film
If I were to define the motive force behind the making of FERNANDA HUSSEIN, I would say it was to keep myself from going crazy. The whole thing emerged out of inarticulate rage I carried within me, not only during the Persian Gulf War but through the-years that followed, as I progressively learned more and more about what had in fact transpired during the war and its unfolding consequences on the lives of so many people. As quickly as the popular media set focus on issues and events around the Gulf conflict, consuming public attention for months, just as quickly it seemed, following the war and the US 'Welcome Home' festivities, the entire situation receded from popular consciousness and debate. Sporadic at best, and often cursory, were reports on the devastating post-war realities of life in Iraq, the increasing discovery of a variety of 'Gulf War' syndrome effects among veterans, and on-going criticism of our foreign policy objectives in the Gulf as well as criticism of the complicit role major media played in sustaining support for the war. My goal was to try to create a time- capsule of what it felt like to be in America during that period, to preserve as best possible the memories I had of that time, with the hope of encouraging reflection.
With the exception of myself, virtually the entire cast and crew were residents of the state of New Mexico. I am often asked why New Mexico was chosen and the reasons were both conscious and intuitive. By filming in New Mexico I did feel that I could speak indirectly and associatively about that other unseen desert thousands of miles away. I thought of New Mexico's extensive military history, of Los Alamos, and Trinity. In fact, during the shooting, it was said to me that, in proportion to the population, more soldiers left for the Persian Gulf from New Mexico than from any other state. Beyond this however, there was in situating the stories in the Southwest a pull within me that was less rational. In previous wanderings, I had consistently found the Southwest, beyond the obvious striking beauty of much of the terrain, to be a rather charged landscape, beneath which always lurks for me a certain violence and, for lack of a better word, mystery. Clearly there is an echo of a past population the presence as well of the history of which has been largely eradicated.
As my meager budget prevented me from being able to enlist union actors (or crew members), the cast was drawn from the local community with most of the performers having had no previous acting experience (the one exception is Thia Gonzales who portrays Fernanda Hussein and who had prior to moving to New Mexico been an acting major at New York University). The role of Carlos Sandia, the returning Gulf War veteran, is played by Robert Perea, himself a Gulf War veteran. The "People for Peace" activists are an authentic group which formed in Santa Fe during the War and remains active today. Through them I was told, for instance, of the story of a young woman who, on one of the most bitterly cold nights of the war kept a lone candle vigil in downtown Santa Fe. This incident and the actual woman reappear in my film. There are numerous other such currents of realism in the film, (for instance, the psychic's house is the home of a psychic). Throughout the process a conscious effort was made to interweave documentary material into the narrative, at times blurring distinctions between the real, the created, and the recreated." John Gianvito February 2001
...and then I wanted to say that silently we start to love this filmmaker, who doesn't make any noise, a kind of "saint" I feel like saying. Someone who doesn't calculate, doesn't make any fuss, any effect and takes you by the hand to make you feel something with him. He says come, look, listen. And we do.
The value of a film is defined by its continuing relevance. As the twentieth anniversary of the second US-Iraq war comes in 2023, and as MAD SONGS foretold in its examination of the fallout from the first Gulf – of the darkness that intensified in the American soul, that became a malevolent and malignant political force America still deals with today – MAD SONGS continues to be a timely and urgent call-back to investigating history with an insight that encourages the responses we must make today.
SAVING FILMS THAT MATTER
THE RESTORATION TEAM
Project Producer, Restorer, Colorist, Remastering
Mark is a filmmaker with over 30 years experience working in home video. He was a producer at Criterion and produced titles through his own company, Three Legged Cat. Several of those projects involved restoration and remastering. That led him to full-time restoration. In partnership with Louis Black (the cofounder of both the Austin Chronicle and SXSW) they restored the films of Eagle Pennell including The Whole Shootin' Match (1978) and Last Night at the Alamo (1983), recently featured on The Criterion Channel, and Tobe Hopper's early short films and first feature, Eggshells (1972). Mark has continued to focus on restoring films primarily by artists and indepenednt filmmakers like William Raban and Adam Roberts; the early films of Sergey Dvortsevoy (1995-1999); and Jack Hazan including A Bigger Splash (1974), Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris (1972) and Rude Boy (1980). The last two premiered at the New York Film Festival in 2020 and 2021, respectively. A Bigger Splash is currently on Netflix. The restorations of Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris and John Gianvito's Profit motive and the whispering wind can be seen on MUBI. Meeting the Man is currently in MUBI's Top 100 most popular films worlwide.
Matt is an accomplished audio engineer whose feature work includes several Harry Potter films (The Philosopher's Stone, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix), the Lord of the Rings, and Who Killed Don Quixote, among others. He's experienced as a sound designer, post-production re-mixes, ADR editor, audio producer and director.
Adam is a member of the Pixel Farm team. He's an experienced VFX artist who has worked at Framestore and other effects houses. Adam currently leads the training and education outreach at the Pixel Farm for both PF Clean and PF Track.
The Pixel Farm
The Pixel Farm is a leading software developer and the creators of PF Clean and PF Track. PF Clean is one of the most respected film and video restoration packages. Their outreach stretches to independent restorers and archives around the world.
The University of Westminster
Westminster's film department is one of the best in the United Kingdom. It has a unique dedication to film and video restroation. Part of that commitment lies in its archive-level scanning services.
As its own statement says, "A distribution company dedicated to the release of independent, foreign, and documentary film. Founded in December 2015 by Ryan Krivoshey." But that belies the fact that Grasshopper Film is a smart and passionate company committed to the distribution and support of often difficult but important films. In North America, Grasshopper Film also distributes other films by John Gianvito, including Profit motive and the whispering wind.
HOW YOUR MONEY WILL BE SPENT
This is a flexible fund. We are seeking costs for Scanning, Picture and Audio Restoration, Remastering, Digital Presrevation, and initial outreach campiagn materials to help promote and reposition the film with screening socieites, museums, festivals, activists groups and schools.
2023 marks the 20th anniversary of the second Gulf War. By teaming up with other filmmakers who have examined this subject, we hope to create several screening packages to draw attention to this film and its continuing relevance.
The current plans in North America include film festival screenings, followed by theatrical and event screenings.
Meanwhile, this project is currently seeking outlets on various streaming services worlwide, while planning to launch from festivals and identify local distriubutors and screening societies.