Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story depicts one man’s wild, lifelong adventure
of testing societal boundaries through his use of subversive art. This 98-minute film combines traditional documentary storytelling with original animation from over 70 years worth of art from the renegade children’s book author and illustrator. Using a historical palette of 20th century events to paint an artist’s epic yet controversial life story, this HD documentary film offers a feature-length retrospective of Ungerer’s life and art, pondering the complexities and contradictions of a man who, armed with an acerbic wit, an accusing finger and a razor sharp pencil, gave visual representation to the revolutionary voices during one of the most tantalizing and dramatic periods in American history.
Coming of age under the German occupation of France in World War II, Tomi Ungerer produced some of the most iconic imagery of the 1960s and ‘70s. From his striking visual commentaries protesting American involvement in Vietnam to the many beloved characters of his children’s books, he is admired worldwide for the influence his work has had on a variety of art forms, and for his contribution to children’s literature. “No one, I dare say, no one was as original,” Far Out Interviewee Maurice Sendak said of him. “Tomi influenced everybody.” Yet the same factors that vaulted him to meteoric success – fearless creativity, absolute outspokenness, fierce independence – also made him a lightning rod for controversy and the object of intense malice.
In Far Out, we meet an artist who creates boundary-exploring erotica and provocative political art, while penning best-selling children’s literature with mischievous wit and childlike innocence. He arrives on American shores eager for economic opportunities and new creative freedom, and he leaves having offended even the tolerant and open-minded as he pushes past the limits of propriety. He becomes a broadly appealing artist and Madison Avenue success story, a singular artist steeped in piquant ideas and thoughts, yet even his most recognized books are now out of print. While Ungerer is by no means a victim, he is an early casualty of the so-called cultural wars—a man who didn’t fit neatly into the left or the right, and who managed to offend and fascinate people of all political and cultural persuasions. Once the most famous children’s book author in America, Tomi Ungerer became persona non grata in this country, exiled to the professional abyss, never to be heard from again.
Yet the film also explores Ungerer’s life post-America, when he retreated to Nova Scotia in the hopes of finding himself. We see an artist “dropping out” and reinventing himself by adopting an agrarian lifestyle. Ultimately, his search leads him to Ireland, where this illustrator discovers this island’s natural beauty and its resilient people, and through both finds his own personal satisfaction and inner peace, not to mention renewed critical and commercial success late in life.
Ungerer’s artwork is the beating heart of the film’s visual style—the product of his pencil provides the essential imagery for our film’s Broll, an archive of thousands of original still images. What makes this documentary innovative is how we use this archive as a narrative tool. Through a number of motion graphics techniques, from stop motion to 3D animation, we are uniquely animating hundreds of select pictures from this trove to help tell our story, bringing his childhood sketches, advertising campaigns, anti-Vietnam War posters, cartoons, collages, works of erotica and children’s books into motion. In addition, historical archival footage and still photographs are selectively interspersed throughout the piece, providing important historical context but never dominating Ungerer’s original imagery.
While our subjects’ on-camera interviews provide the backbone of the film’s narrative, writers, critics and other artists from various fields are interviewed to put his words and actions under a discerning microscope. Secondary interviews include: the late, great Maurice Sendak, legendary children’s book author and close friend; Jules Feiffer, syndicated Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and friend; Patrick Skene Catling, British children’s book author and critic; Michael Patrick Hearn, American literary scholar specializing in children’s literature and its illustration; Steven Heller, art director, journalist and critic for the New York Times Book Review; Burton Pike, Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center, former Fulbright student and long-time friend…and others.