The first-rate documentary film ‘Lemon,’ chronicles the artistic development of Lemon Andersen, a half-Puerto Rican, half-Norwegian poet whose one-man memoirist show has electrified audiences around the country for the last three years.
However, ‘Lemon’ also offers up one of the most brilliantly documented lessons of the exhilarating yet frustrating spectrum of emotions, risks, doubts, passions, and triumphs that define the formative creative process for an artist who has placed all of his chips into making his work the source of his family’s livelihood.
The 2011 film, directed by Laura Brownson and Beth Levinson, will be screened Wednesday, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m. by the Utah Film Center at the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts in downtown Salt Lake City.
Following the free screening, Doug Fabrizio, host of KUER-FM’s ‘RadioWest,’ will moderate a discussion with the film’s directors. The film is part of the UFC’s ‘Through The Lens’ series.
Taking more than three and a half years to complete, ‘Lemon’ is crisply paced at its 85 minutes and audiences may be quite surprised at the extensive candor and honesty displayed in the film.
At one point, Andersen, now in his late 30s, seemed an unlikely candidate to become the subject of a significant documentary that stands out not only for the artist’s immensely satisfying capabilities but also for a definitive exploration of the highs and lows in the creative process. As a teenager in the Brooklyn Courtyard projects and the son of heroin addicts – both of whom died of AIDS – Andersen notched three felonies on his record and knew his options were limited. His epiphany came, at the age of 20, at an open mic spoken poetry reading in the Williamsburg district of the Brooklyn borough.
Andersen became a serious student, immersing himself with works by Piri Thomas, who wrote ‘Down These Mean Streets,’ as well as Reggie Gaines, who penned the lyrics for ‘Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk’ and Miguel Piñero, author and playwright credited with leading the Nuyorican literary movement.
And, he was sure that, as he developed his art, he would never have to worry again about supporting his family. Andersen gained early acclaim for being one of the writers and performers in ‘Slanguage’ with Universes, a Bronx group. He appeared frequently on HBO’s ‘Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam’ and earned a Tony Award along with a Drama Desk Award nomination for his work on ‘Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam on Broadway.’ Incidentally, Simmons also came on board for the film.
However, the film’s focus aims at the behind-the-scenes development of his most significant work ‘County of Kings,’ a one-man show that originated at the American Playhouse Theater in New York City, a company of modest means. It went on to a hugely successful run at the Public Theater, one of the most prestigious companies in American theater.
And, this development process provides many of the film’s best moments. Andersen, mindful of building a worthwhile legacy to support his wife and children, faces life-changing decisions with regard to the trajectory of his artistic career and he must navigate the competing tensions of those eager to produce his work. Working on a modest stipend from the American Playhouse Theater, Andersen initially planned to do a book but the company encouraged him to develop the show for stage. While he was grateful for that support, Andersen was confident that the Public Theater would generate the most promising opportunities to take the show nationally.
Yet, even when he realized that glowing press reviews alone did not translate automatically into financial success, Andersen learned to persevere and his patience ultimately was rewarded when filmmaker Spike Lee came through as a co-producer.
The film certainly echoes the artistic core that has drawn critics and audiences to Andersen’s ‘County of Kings.’ Andersen is compassionate, realistic, humorous, and comfortable without being sensationalistic or pandering. He doesn’t edit nor exaggerate his biography for effect but lets the natural unfolding of flaws, struggles, and moments of loving endearment take hold with unquestionable honesty.
It does seem remarkable, though, as he indicated in an interview with Univision Television, that Andersen has never watched the film. ‘When you see the documentary, you’ll know why,’ he says. ‘Everyone who sees it knows why I don’t want to see it. I’ve gone a long way after that documentary; now there’s a lot more light in my life and in my professional world.’
For more information about the film, see here.
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