When Walt Whitman Was a Little Girl

Monday, July 15, 2013


“When Walt Whitman was a little girl, she’d never let the ordinariness of things box her in.”

This is the first line of M. C. Biegner’s poem, and it knocked me flat. A manifesto for art-making, this. An irresistibly intriguing beginning, followed by a simple statement about how to imagine one’s way out of corners. It opened a lot of doors for me.

Like: don’t be afraid that Lincoln’s beard looks fake. In fact, it’s the point that it looks fake. Don’t simply trust your eyes. Walt sure didn’t.

Like: fealty to the word also means doing something completely different from what it says.

And that it’s okay not to know exactly where you’re going when you start. You just have to figure it out by the end.

The poem made me feel so many things, and my goal was to try to mimic some of that. It was shot on a handful of weekends over the course of a year (another lesson: it’s a good idea to have your main character wear a baseball cap for much of the film, as it hides haircuts and colorings incredibly well). The Lincoln scenes were shot first. We adjusted accordingly as we went. The dancing sequences were daunting for me, but made so much easier by the dancers. The snow was completely coincidental, as it doesn’t happen in North Carolina that much.

I want to thank everyone who worked on the film, especially Natalie Braun, my across-the-street neighbor who plays Walt, and Alex Maness, the guy who shot all those stunning images. And of course my wife, Joyce Ventimiglia, easily the greatest person in the universe, and my daughter Sofia, who certainly doesn’t let the ordinariness of things box her in.

Monday, July 1, 2013