HFF 2015 Interview: Bob Burnett, Director of The Art of Richard Thompson

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Richard Thompson is renowned among cartoonists as the “artist’s” cartoonist. Little known to all but those close to him is the extent of his extraordinary art, a gift so rare that it compelled “Calvin and Hobbes” creator, Bill Watterson, to break an almost 20 year silence and declare, “Now I have a reason to read comics again.” This warm and moving portrait will enlighten and delight with the sheer beauty of his work. The Art of Richard Thompson is a 2015 Heartland Film Festival Official Selection, Documentary Short.


We spoke with Director Bob Burnett about his film:

HF: What is your film about, and how did the project come to be?

BB: The Art of Richard Thompson is about a supremely talented artist/cartoonist who for years worked in mostly at night while listening to classical music in relative obscurity, slowly gained a following,  had the world on a string and then, well, you’ll see.  Producer Andy Hemmendinger lived two doors down from Richard for 15 years. A group of Richard’s friends were putting the book together (also named “The Art of Richard Thompson”) and one thing led to another and the next thing you know we decided to do this film.

HF: What was your role in the production?

BB: I was the director and camera-person. Andy Hemmendinger was the producer. Alison Ray Cavanagh and Patrice Shannon were editors.

HF: Why did you submit to the Heartland Film Festival? Have you been to the Festival before?

BB: I’ve never been to Heartland. I submitted the film because I was impressed with the general feeling of your festival from reading about it years past. There a human element connected to the work you feature that seems to be particularly strong this year in an exciting way with your theme of “Movies that Stay With You.”

HF: This year’s tagline is “Movies That Stay with You” – what lasting effect will your film have on moviegoers?

BB: Interestingly enough, the body of work of Richard Thompson has been described as having a lasting effect on people and will be studied and read for generations to come. Our film aimed at being both a celebration and a reality check of the notion of la comedie humane, this mortal coil, etc.etc.. The other goal was to hopefully lead more people to the work so they’d buy the book.

HF: What has inspired you to become a filmmaker?

BB: Doing this for a job beats working. I get to do stories about people who are gifted, talented, creative and most importantly make a difference in the world in any number of ways.

HF: What is something that you know about filmmaking now, but you weren’t told when you started your career?

BB: Legendary Washington DC filmmaker Charles Guggenheim once said two things at a screening: Show them the door but don’t try to push them through it and give them something that they can’t deny.

HF: What are some of your favorite movies? What’s your favorite worst movie (you know it’s bad, but still love it)?

BB: The Double Life of Veronique and Burden of Dreams are pretty high on my list. The Alexander Payne segment “14e arrondissement” from Paris, je t’aime too. Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence. I really liked Ida as a somewhat recent film.

HF: How many film festivals has your film been a part of? What do you like the most about the festival experience?

BB: The film has been in six festivals to date. Hoping for more! Being in a theater with a laughing, applauding audience is pretty great.

HF: Heartland Film Festival moviegoers love filmmaker Q&As. Let’s say a Festival attendee wants to earn some brownie points—what is a question that you’d love to answer, but haven’t yet been asked?

BB: Talk about the thinking that went into presenting Richard’s personality regardless of the circumstances.


Watch an Exclusive Trailer for The Art of Richard Thompson:


See The Art of Richard Thompson in Shorts Program 7: Art Appreciation

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