For 15 years now, NYC and San Francisco-based director Sam Green has been making documentary films, enlightening audiences about domestic radicals, exile, language, and more. For his latest project, The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, he explores the life and work of Buckminster Fuller, with a little help from indie rock vets Yo La Tengo, who accompany his live narration with an original score.
Since debuting in 2012, the project has hit 10 cities, and will journey to Philly’s FringeArts this Friday. In advance of the show, I rang up Green and YLT’s Ira Kaplan—to talk songwriting, ephemera, and why Buckminster Fuller.
“His philosophy is in the air these days,” says Green, with a laugh, of Fuller. “He was pretty obscure for a while, but he’s back, as they say.” A mid-twentieth century philosopher who advocated sustainability, efficiency, and using design to solve real-world problems, Fuller is perhaps best known for inventing the geodesic dome, although his contributions to math, science, and urban studies are varied and great.
“He was a Batman character, a larger-than-life character, a very rich persona,” continues Green. “He was wildly optimistic, and a visionary. I put myself in that group as well.”
Green first encountered Fuller’s ideas while working on a project for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art—“they were running an exhibit about Fuller, and asked me to do a documentary,” he says. As he dug deeper into Fuller’s life, he became intrigued.
Green’s previous work, Utopia in Four Movements (a multi-episode oeuvre tackling China’s largest shopping mall, the rise of Esperanto, and more), used a live documentary format, in which Green narrated video clips and was accompanied by a live band. He decided to use the same format for Fuller.
“I was thinking: who would I love to do music for this? Who has the right sound?” He continues. “I’ve been a big Yo La Tengo fan for many years, and I had seen them do a similar show, where they played live music to movies, once before. So I got in touch with them, and they were up for it.”
“Sam came very highly recommended,” says Kaplan with a laugh, who was introduced to Green through a mutual friend. “I wasn’t too familiar with Fuller’s philosophies beforehand, but it’s far from required that you know about him to enjoy the show. This is not a dry academic performance.”