Augusta Palmer is a filmmaker and professor at St. Francis College in downtown Brooklyn. Her latest film “A is for Aye Aye” follows a little girl named Iris — played in the film by Palmer’s 11-year-old daughter Laila — as she wanders through the New York Public Library’s (NYPL) Picture Collection; it premiered on February 27th and 28th at BAMkids Film Fest.
Palmer is also a mom and co-founder of the P.S. 20 Farms, an urban agriculture program that provides students with the opportunity to learn about gardening, healthy eating and sustainability on school grounds. She lives in Fort Greene.
Fort Greene Focus: Tell me a bit about your film!
Augusta Palmer: “A is for Aye Aye” follows a little girl who wanders into New York Public Library’s Picture Collection and, as she starts to look at pictures, the images come to life. She discovers an aye aye — which you’ll find under the section “animals” — and it proceeds to lead her through worlds created by the letters B, and C, and so on through the alphabet until they reach the letter Z, at which point she finds herself back outside of that magical world.
The film is really about being a beginner in all things, and the way that a child’s approach can be totally different from how most adults approach things. Children juxtapose things and create whole worlds out of nothing or out of found materials and that’s really what the film’s about.
My inspiration was the NYPL’s Picture Collection, which is an amazing archive where you can still go and find over a million images pasted on cardstock by librarians, carefully labeled and organized alphabetically.
FGF: How did you first discover the Picture Collection?
AP: I was first sent there as an intern on a documentary film. It used to be not that uncommon for people to be sent there and told to go find images — like old pictures of electric lights, which is what I was originally sent to find. A lot of people also still use the Collection for costume design and there’s a huge archive of images of costumes from all ages and places, and set designers use it as well.
This year the Picture Collection is celebrating their centennial and they have an exhibit at the main library called “From Abacus to Zoology.” You can see the exhibit, including an excerpt of “A is for Aye Aye,” up until May 15th.
FGF: What initially brought you to Fort Greene? What makes it home for you today?
AP: I moved here in 1994, to an apartment on Hanson Place, and I just liked the neighborhood. At that point it was an inexpensive place to live and I just loved it because there are so many parks and public spaces. It’s still such a beautiful place to walk around and I consider myself lucky to live in a neighborhood with so many places to go with your family.
FGF: What role, if any, did the neighborhood play in the creation of the film?
AP: In addition to my living in Fort Greene, the animator of the film, Sabina Hahn, is also a Clinton Hill resident, so it’s a bit of a neighborhood project. On top of that, the first Kickstarter donor was Michael Galinsky — who is kind of a Fort Greene fixture and great filmmaker, along with his wife Sukhi Hawley — and a lot of the Kickstarter support came from the neighborhood as well, which I’m very grateful for.
My employer, St. Francis College, also supported the project with Faculty Development and Research Grants, and my students did great work on both sides of the camera, acting, crewing, and doing research for the project. My daughter, Laila, 11, who’s lived in Fort Greene since birth, stars in the film. And, finally, it was a fabulous experience for us to show the film to two sold out audiences at BAM, my favorite neighborhood cinema!
FGF: What’s coming up next for you?
AP: I’m working on arranging some additional screenings of “A is for Aye Aye” in the New York area, then after that there will be a digital release of the film. My next project is a feature documentary film and the working title is the “Blues Society.” It’s about a series of blues festivals held in Memphis, Tennessee that helped change how people in Memphis and across America came to view the importance of blues. I’m excited about that, although it’s a totally different project.