sculpts a fitting tribute to the late artist Stanley Lewis.
Jeanne Pope thought she had her life pretty much figured out eight years ago. Then Pope, a single mom who moved here from London in 2000, happened to be browsing through a second-hand bookshop on the Main. She literally bumped into maverick Montreal sculptor Stanley Lewis.
And so Pope’s life was to change in ways she never would have dreamed. Pope, a therapist at a chiropractic clinic, was mesmerized by Lewis, who was almost as renowned for his philosophical views on the universe as he was for his art. Lewis and his work were to consume Pope long past his death in 2006.
Though she had never picked up a camera prior to meeting Lewis, Pope decided she wanted to become a filmmaker and focus on the sculptor. And so she applied and was accepted as a mature student in Concordia University’s esteemed film-production program.
Pope, now 50, has just completed a documentary film trilogy devoted to Lewis and his stomping grounds on the Main, where his home/studio was located upstairs from Berson Monuments.
This last chapter, Dust: A Sculptor’s Journey, screens Sunday and Monday at the Festival du nouveau cinéma.
The first in the series, Where’s Stanley, won prizes at film festivals in Los Angeles and elsewhere around the continent. The second, Birth of the Smoked Meat, earned Pope and her co-director Zoe Mapp the Kodak Imaging Award for best new Canadian student director at the 2006 Montreal World Film Festival. The prize also entailed a trip for them to the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, including transportation, accommodation and accreditation for the fest.
Birth of the Smoked Meat, inspired by Lewis’s love for deli, follows
“(Jeanne) Pope has just completed a documentary
film trilogy devoted to Lewis.”
the beef from lowly brisket to mouth-watering spiced delight. The film’s accent is on the meat’s preparation and its subsequent devouring by Lewis at the Main deli on St. Laurent Blvd. And it’s no accident that Peter Varvaro, the Main’s boss and Lewis’s buddy, is throwing a smoked-meat bash for Pope and patrons following the Sunday screening of Dust.
Pope’s background, like that of the ethnically diverse multitudes who congregate on St. Laurent Blvd., is classic Montreal multicultural. A Lebanese Muslim, she was adopted by Russian Jews in London after her parents died. She speaks five languages. This is what prompted her to make the 2008 animated doc Up and Down the City Road, a soulful tribute to the Main, its people and its places – many of which have since been boarded up.
In Dust, Pope once again laments the end of a great era on the Main, with the passing of Lewis and his hard-luck filmmaker crony Ryan Larkin. But the focus here is more on Lewis’s art and turbulent times in the final years of his life.
Dust is a heartfelt and muchdeserved homage to a most misunderstood man. Complex and complexed on so many levels, Lewis also possessed a childlike innocence – which attracted Pope and so many others. And can’t forget that the man also had a way with marble.
In the film, Lewis opens up to Pope. He talks about how his forebears arrived here at the turn of the last century and set down roots not far from Lewis’s later digs on the Main. His parents were impoverished, so young Lewis had to find low-cost ways to amuse himself. It began with a piece of wood he found on the street, and a sculptor was born.
And yet another reason why parents shouldn’t take too much heed of school aptitude tests: Based on the results of the latter, Lewis was advised he’d be better off as a clerk.
Lewis paid no mind. He won art scholarships. He headed off to Italy, home of his hero Michelangelo. He produced prolifically back home. He taught. He developed a cult following.
He also made enemies. He had legal battles. He lost jobs and grants. He lost family. He suffered nervous breakdowns. He retreated to his studio on his spiritual base, the Main.
Ah, the life of an artist. Not always so glam.
In the doc, Pope tries to get Lewis to exhibit again. He resists. He looks so worn – and would make a splendid subject for a sculpture himself. He is dying. He maintains he has found peace in self-exile and sickness. He claims he’s at home with the dust in the studio and, of course, dust serves as an apt metaphor for his ultimate destination.
Also fascinating and moving is the interplay between Lewis and Larkin, both headstrong and eccentric artists who refused to compromise. Larkin was to pass away not long after Lewis. Both are sorely missed, but, thanks to this film (among several others), will at least be remembered.
“When I first met Stanley, he reminded me of my adopted father, Marius (a noted British journalist),” Pope recalls. “And something just stirred. Then Stan being Stan, a chatterbox and curious, and me being the same, this incredible friendship started.”
And so the last eight years of her life have been spent zooming in on the life of Lewis. “There was such sadness in his life. But I do believe he found some sense of happiness in his last few years,” says Pope, who still toils as a “natural therapist – a cross between a glorified massage therapist and a kinesiologist” – by day.
“People ask me if I’m ever going to do something else. I tell them we had a pact. But now the final film in the trilogy has been made. I just went to Stanley’s grave and put a stone on it, then told him: ‘It’s over, my friend. I don’t think I can do any more.’ ” Lewis would surely understand.
Dust did Hot Docs in Toronto and is heading off to fests in Ireland and Scotland. “And I’ve actually been very presumptuous and have entered it into the Sundance Film Festival. Hey, why not? You never know,” says Pope, who will next be working on a doc about mental health.
“It’s been a long journey from my first day in film school, where I was mistaken for the teacher. I told the much younger students that I was simply mature and that it’s never too late to learn. Little did I know then how true that was.” Dust: A Sculptor’s Journey screens Sunday at 1 p.m. and Monday at 3:15 p.m. at Ex-centris, 3536 St. Laurent Blvd., as part of the Festival du nouveau cinéma. Visit www.nouveaucinema.ca.
Stanley Lewis opens up to Jeanne Pope in Dust: A Sculptor’s Journey, reflecting on his work while maintaining he has found peace in seclusion.