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Produced by Iris Arts - 2005
Creative direction and editing  - Verona Fonté

About This Project with Karl

I had the great fortune of working on a digital media project with Karl Linn, founder of the urban garden movement in the United States, during the last year of his life. One day Karl, whom I knew through his wife Nicole, called and asked me if I would film him. Karl had seen a digital media piece I'd done with Kaz Tanahashi and was interested in my work. I said sure Karl I'll film you, but if you want me to do something with the footage we have to talk. Many people ask me to film them and have no idea what they are asking in terms of time and effort. I met with Karl for several hours and we talked about his life and his work. I saw a consistent pattern in Karl's life that, I thought, made his life story a teaching story.
I had been thinking about exploring the "altruistic archetype" in terms of what motivates people to give. I told Karl I would gladly use his life's story as a pilot for this exploration. We spent more than six months working with his story, with me always urging Karl to compress the vignettes of his life into the essence of what was significant. Karl enjoyed this process immensely. He would often call and ask when we could work again, telling me how our sessions were helping him to more deeply understand the major trends in his life. As both of us had been practicing psychologists, I think we understood the psychological work that was also going on.
Karl and I had different agendas. I wanted to explore his pattern of enthusiasm for a utopia, and then his disillusionment when he confronted the dark side of a particular social movement. Karl wanted to create a biographical description of his life. I kept telling Karl we didn't have the visuals and that no one wanted to listen to a "talking head." In November 2005, Karl told me he had cancer. I was grief stricken and could only say, "Karl I'm yours—we'll do whatever we need to do to finish this project." Karl and I worked until ten days before he died. And I lived with images and ideas of Karl for the next three months. The last time we worked, Karl was growing weaker because his transfusions were no longer working as well and he had to have them more often. I picked him up and we went to my house where we did an incredibly touching interview. In it he covered his love of life, his concern for his wife, Nicole, his discouragement on the nights that were full of pain, and his feelings about death. When we finished he enthusiastically suggested that we go into my study and edit some more. We worked for about three hours until I reached the point where I couldn't think anymore. I said, "Karl, I'm so tired I can hardly think. I have to take you home now." He was still full of energy and enthusiasm and said we'd finish tomorrow. The next day he was too sick to work more. I went to visit him, and he said, "We've finished, haven't we, Verona?" He passed away ten days later.
I feel so fortunate to have been able to work with this big-hearted man who always encouraged and appreciated my creativity. During the last phase of our project, I decided to do a digital-media biography of Karl's life. This is what he had always wanted to do. I had spent many hours with Karl both before and after his passing—always deeply appreciating his presence in my life. After his passing I built the Karl Linn website, embedding within this a digital media biography a distillation of excerpts that represented significant points of his journey.