Bridgeport film festival offers artist documentaries for home viewing
For almost six decades, Hank Virgona commuted six days a week to a job creating art at his lower Manhattan studio.
Virgona continued the daily routine into his late 80s, despite health issues, limited income and lack of major notoriety as an artist.
“A lot of artists out there are really good but no one knows who they are,” said Tom Carruthers, a local film festival organizer who admires Virgona’s under-recognized talent and work ethic.
Virgona’s story is told in the 2018 documentary “Nothing Changes: Art for Hank’s Sake,” which will be shown Oct. 9 as part of an online film series on art and artists.
The movie, Carruthers said, highlights “a gentle, easy-going guy and prolific artist who lived life to the fullest. His attitude was impressive. Watching the film gets people to look at their own lives and maybe apply Hank’s philosophy to their lives.”
“Art for Hank’s Sake” will be one of 12 films — most of them documentaries about unique artists — to be streamed for free Fridays at 7 p.m. from Sept. 4 to Nov. 6. The “Friday Night Flicks” series will be presented by Bridgeport’s Housatonic Museum of Art (HMA) and curated by Carruthers’ Connecticut Film Festival (CFF).
Most screenings will be followed by question-and-answer sessions with directors or others involved in the film. Robbin Zella, HMA director, said post-film discussions will allow the audience “to engage with the creators.”
Carruthers runs CFF, an umbrella film education organization that produces themed movie festivals such as the New Haven International Film Festival and FilmFest52, movie screenings, local film premieres, industry panels and related fundraising events.
The series at HCC opens Sept. 4 with “The Cardboard Bernini,” a 2012 documentary about Redding artist James Grashow’s construction of a large cardboard fountain inspired by the work of a famous 17th century sculptor. Grashow will participate in an audience Q&A after the screening.
Friday Night Flicks
Friday Night Flicks is a virtual film festival that presents documentaries and films about artists at 7 p.m. on Fridays from Sept. 4 through Nov. 6.
Sept. 4, “The Cardboard Bernini,” a 2012 documentary about Redding artist James Grashow’s construction of a large cardboard fountain inspired by the work of a famous 17th century sculptor. Q&A with Grashow after the screening.
Sept. 11, “The Collector,” a documentary exploring the 46-year career of famed New York City gallery owner and art collector Allan Stone. Q&A with director Olympia Stone.
Sept. 18, “Irwin” tells the story of Irwin Hasen, a pioneer DC Comics illustrator and creator of the Dondi newspaper comic strip.
Sept. 18, “A Story in Stone” focuses on stone lithography and features artist James Reed, who established Milestone Graphics in Bridgeport and produces prints for nationally recognized artists.
Sept. 25, “Actually Iconic: Richard Estes,” about a painter who helped found the photo-realist movement in the 1960s. Q&A with director Olympia Stone.
Oct. 2, “Double Take: The Art of Elizabeth King,” about a sculptor and animator whose work is in museums around the country, Q&A with director Olympia Stone.
Oct. 9, “Nothing Changes: Art for Hank’s Sake,” a documentary about artist Hank Virgona.
Oct. 23, “Curious Worlds: The Art & Imagination of David Beck,” on a master sculptor, carver and miniature architect who builds intricate moving sculptures.
Oct. 30, “The Original,” highlighting an artist who recreates famous paintings and artifacts in miniature. Q&A with director Richard McMahan.
Oct. 30, “Little Fiel,” animated film about a Mozambican artist growing up during civil war (Q&A with director Irina Patkanian.
Nov. 6, ‘With Dad,” documentary about a photographer’s work during his father’s decline and death from Alzheimer’s disease.
Nov. 6, “Summer Spent,” on the director’s obsessive work discipline. Q&A with director Stephen DiRado.
On Sept. 11 is “The Collector,” a documentary exploring the 46-year career of famed New York City gallery owner and art collector Allan Stone. It will be followed by a Q&A with director Olympia Stone, Allan’s daughter, a former Connecticut resident who specializes in producing biographical documentaries about unconventional artists.
Olympia Stone’s films have a special connection to HMA, Zella said, as the museum has “many remarkable works in our collection that were donated by the Allan Stone Gallery.”
Two films will be shown Sept. 18. “Irwin” tells the story of Irwin Hasen, a pioneer DC Comics illustrator and creator of the Dondi newspaper comic strip. “A Story in Stone” focuses on stone lithography and features artist James Reed, who established Milestone Graphics in Bridgeport and produces prints for nationally recognized artists.
Carruthers grew up in an “artsy household” in Stamford and has been into art, music and movies since his youth. His mom was an artist and his dad a jazz aficionado.
He was deeply influenced by art films he watched as a teenager at Norwalk’s former SoNo Cinema. “Films can be life-changing, especially for young people,” he said.
He played guitar and eventually operated bands under the Funkestra name that performed at weddings, corporate events and schools.
After heading west to attend college and work as a river guide and horse wrangler in the Rocky Mountains, Carruthers returned to pursue a career in entertainment production, promotion and management. He oversaw a roster of 300 varied performers, working with some well-known national acts.
He later decided to focus primarily on more “altruistic” ways to promote the arts and social responsibility, such as CFF. Nowadays, Thomas Carruthers Entertainment concentrates on event and sponsorship marketing.
“You have to wear a lot of different hats in this business if you want to make a living,” the Fairfield County resident said.
He’s working to bring a comedy shorts festival to the region and to promote sports development in the Housatonic Valley. He’s also been a television film critic in Connecticut.
His goal is to provide a platform for independent filmmakers and expose the public to “thought-provoking visual stories that inspire and entertain.”
“There’s so much art going on and being created, but much of it won’t be seen by the public,” Carruthers said.
For more information about the film festival, visit Visit HousatonicMuseum.org.