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Filmmaker Carl Colby has this much in common with the Corcoran Gallery of Art, his latest documentary subject: They’re both in furious fundraising mode.
It’s been four years since the Corcoran hired Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry to design one of his savagely wrinkled buildings as an annex to its Beaux-Arts home at 17th Street and New York Avenue NW. The museum has about half the $120 million it needs just to break ground on the project; it will need untold millions more to complete it. Having nearly exhausted the generosity of the museum’s directors and richer patrons, Corcoran President David C. Levy is starting to pass the hat in a very public way.
So are Colby and his producers: All told, they’re going to need between $250,000 and $300,000 to film Mr. Gehry Goes to Washington, an hourlong documentary about the tedium of creating an impertinent bit of architecture in the heart of downtown D.C., where buildings and minds are square. So far, Colby, who’s directing the Gehry feature for TV, has gotten enough grants and donations to finish 12 minutes of the film. On April 2, he screened all 12 of them at the Motion Picture Association of America for a crowd of Corcoran followers.
“The occasion was that we felt we’d gotten the film to a certain point,” Colby says by cell phone from Los Angeles (he’s preparing to relocate back to his native D.C.). More to the point, he adds, “We’re raising funds for the rest.”
But as the Corcoran has learned, it’s not the best economy in which to raise money. The last big gift the museum received for the Gehry project was $30 million in 2001 from two former AOL executives, Robert W. Pittman and Barry Schuler. At the time, the Corcoran said it had $60 million committed to the project. That figure hasn’t budged appreciably since then. And with Gehry following a familiar pattern of fixing designs and then breaking them again, “cost has been an issue throughout,” Corcoran spokesperson Jan Rothschild says.
None of that gloomy information shadows Colby’s previewed edit, which begins blithely with a clip of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and moves on through quick cuts of Gehry’s work (including Corcoran models) along with quotes from a series of talking headsamong others, the late Commission of Fine Arts Chair J. Carter Brown, Washington Post architecture critic Benjamin Forgey, and Corcoran chief Levy, who claims that Washington has no architecture “with a capital A.”
Colby says he hopes to make a film along the lines of Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center, which shows architect Richard Meier having a meltdown or two as the citizens of Brentwood, Calif., reject the whiteness of his buildings.
“There might be more conflict and more interesting material as [the Corcoran] strives toward getting it built,” Colby offers. For now, of course, nobody even knows what sort of material will cover the façade. Bradford McKee