To anyone who lived in Greenpoint prior to 2012, the Manhattan Furrier was a fixture along Manhattan Ave. for many years (it is now occupied by the Vietnamese restaurant Lollipop). The proprietor, Irving Feller, was also a prolific painter and used the back of his storefront as a studio where he would stretch canvases and render his various works. Greenpoint resident Jenn Nielsen has been working on a documentary film about Irving and his art and they are now in the process of completing funding for the film via kickstarter. You can also see a trailer for the film.
We asked Jenn some questions about the project and what’s next for the film, entitled How Big Little Is.
GP: How did you meet Irving and what drove you to want to make a feature length doc about him?
Jenn: I’ve lived in Greenpoint for 11 years and met Irving like many other curious neighbors whom walked into his fur shop on Manhattan Avenue. I was inspired by the rich 60-year history so beautifully preserved within the walls the space, but most importantly, I was drawn to his infectious dedication to art making. We first connected over a shared interest in Kandinsky and the Guggenheim Museum; but it wasn’t until 2008 after his beloved wife, Selma, passed away, that I really got to know him. He was extremely depressed by her loss and was spending long hours in his shop drawing obsessively late into the evening. I started stopping by on my way home from work and somehow through our discussions about art and drawing one another’s portraits, an unexpected friendship emerged. Over the course of the next year, I found myself scribbling down notes from our conversations and started to realize the profound simplicity of the way he spoke. It wasn’t until 2009 when he decided to take what would become the last of his yearly business trips to “trade fur for Native American jewelry” in the Southwest, that I felt inspired to document him through film.
GP: How long have you been working on the project?
Jenn: We began shooting in the summer of 2009 and have since collected over 200 hours of footage. I was never looking for a big story, I was just fascinated by him and felt compelled to keep documenting him as events unfolded – including the closing of his shop and his first gallery show. It was always obvious that he would make a strong character, but it’s only been in the last few months that I’ve realized how much Irving’s life has affected mine — and through my experience, it might have the potential to affect others.
GP: What makes Irving such a compelling subject?
Jenn: Irving’s lived dedication to the abstract expressionist ideal of “following your feeling” above all else is a refreshing and necessary reminder. Kandinsky believed that an authentic artist created from “an internal necessity” which, in the contemporary art world, sounds so out dated. In other words, Irving didn’t care what people thought of him and this attitude was evident in the way he lived his life as well as his approach to art. I hope his story will inspire people to listen to themselves a little more often. I think Irving said it best:
“See if I listened to people and did what they told me to do, I would probably be very unhappy. I think everybody gotta find out what makes them happy, and then do it! Use those feelings, impulses, all the things that come most naturally to you and run with it. You could even say exploit it.”
Sadly, Irving passed away in July of this year which is partially why it feels urgent to finally finish the film and share his story.
GP: What’s next for the film and how are you planning to use your kickstarter funds towards the project?
Jenn: If we meet our goal, the money will be used to pay for an experienced documentary editor to work closely with me for at least 3 months. This style of documentary is very much “written” in post-production and requires the time consuming process of digging through the footage to piece together the story scene by scene. I’m really looking forward to diving into this with a fresh perspective from an editor. Ideally we’ll be submitting to film festivals by next spring and summer.
We wish Jenn all the best of luck with successfully meeting their Kickstarter goal and finishing the film. They are days away from the end of their campaign, so please support the project and help them reach their goal! They will be hosting a Kickstarter wrap party at In God We Trust on Nov. 13th, 6-9pm and will be selling tote bags, some Irving Feller-designed menswear and even some drawings from Irving’s collection.