Why Our ‘Fringe’ Documentary Took 13 Years to Complete

Filmmaker Francis Kuzler reveals the story behind the story behind "The Fringe."

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Had a person told me in 2006 that it would be 2019 before a documentary that I was working on would be finished, I would have laughed, said “Yeah, right,” and kept on shooting. But let’s face it, if that same person would have told me in 2006 that we’d have our first African American President in 2008, followed by extremist backlash manifested in a President named Trump, I would have contented myself in that person’s lunacy — and kept shooting. In the time that we have been making a documentary about the New York International Fringe Festival, theater has changed, what is considered fringe has changed, down to the meaning of the word.

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The point is that the story behind a documentary unfolds over time. This isn’t unlike creating a fictional universe which would, if left to organic development, also take plenty of time to unfold. The main difference between the two, however, is that in the nonfiction world you have absolutely no control over the universe. You are only there to record what is not scripted, to hope that you’re getting the right moments, and to acknowledge that the number of moving parts in a real-world situation can be overwhelming. You sacrifice control of the universe for a deeper understanding of reality.

But a story worth telling is also a story worth waiting for, and I wanted to tell this story the right way, fully explored. Back in 2006, after shooting for 16 days and recording 100 hours of what is familiarly known as FringeNYC, I knew we didn’t have the story. I knew there was something more universal happening in this local-to-New-York, fringe-centric universe. I decided that we would continue returning, year after year, until the story revealed itself. To my process-loving, destiny-over-determinism mind, it not only meant a story revealed but a story exhausted. So I committed myself and anyone foolish enough to hang in there — my partner and co-producer Jen Larkin, my friend and fellow filmmaker Pat Sullivan, our sound mixer “newbie” from 2011, Marcella Dawson — to see the story out. Year after year we recorded the shifting tides of culture and politics, and we watched as artists responded with new forms of theatrical commentary. Year after year we bootstrapped our production by working multiple jobs, freelancing and eBaying, and getting help from some fantastic volunteers who are pros at their jobs. All with the thought that one day we’ll know when our part has been played, when it would be time to call it a wrap.

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That day came recently when, mid-shoot, I literally turned the camera off. I knew we had everything we needed. That doesn’t mean to say we don’t have some things left to get: interviews with key people at other fringe festivals internationally; interviews with people who might have been considered fringe once but now are not; archive footage from the city. But, in essence, the story of The New York International Fringe Festival has presented itself as fully as any documentary filmmaker could hope to tell it.

So here we are. What started as an enigmatic concept fueled by a passion for theater — in particular, NYC independent theater — is now nearly a fully fleshed-out thing that we can touch. We have plenty of work to do over the next year, but we got here. We are going to get it done.

Editor’s Note: The Fringe is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise some of the funds needed to complete the film. The campaign ends on Sun., June 3. Visit the campaign and watch a video on the film here.

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Francis Kuzler
Frank Kuzler is a filmmaker and producer working at Dedalus VII. He is also the Executive Director at DecadesOut, a nonprofit production and arts collective based in NYC. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.Frank has dedicated his career to the arts and sciences, particularly theater and film. He recently co-produced the indie feature Easy Living which had its world premiere at the 2017 South by Southwest (SxSW) Film Festival; and earlier produced the Bahamian film Rain, as well as other indies.Current projects through DecadesOut and Dedalus VII include The Fringe, a feature documentary which explores theater’s role in society’s interplay between insider-outsider definitions over the last 20 years; Head for Highland, a feature documentary exploring climate change, individual disenfranchisement, and social inaction; S.P.A.R.K., which pairs scientists with artists in the hopes of creating new work based on common inspirations; and the Science of Violence Initiative, which will create a video journal and podcast tracing causalities of violent events.