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Spring 2009

Film and fantasy

Years ago, young Renaldo Kuhler retreated into an imaginary, illustrated world. Now his private universe — captured in a documentary by Brett Ingram — is ready for visitors.

Ingram, a professor in the Department of Media Studies, became friends with the artist when both were working at the N.C. Museum of Natural Science in 1996. Slowly, Kuhler began showing Ingram intricate drawings and telling him stories of Rocaterrania, a tiny nation of Eastern European immigrants who survived years of revolutions and tyrannical leaders.

Artist Renaldo Kuhler, captured in an image by Brett Ingram. Ingram's feature-length documentary, 'Roccaterrania,' explores Kuhler's artistic world.

Artist Renaldo Kuhler, captured in an image by Brett Ingram. Ingram's feature-length documentary, “Roccaterrania,” explores Kuhler's artistic world.

Somewhere along the way, Ingram realized the ups and downs of Rocaterrania mirrored Kuhler's own life. He knew there was a compelling story to be told.

Twelve years and a Guggenheim later, Ingram has finished his documentary on Kuhler, his life, his work and the ways in which Rocaterrania has been a haven for the illustrator.

The first person to see the film “Rocaterrania” was Kuhler himself. Ingram took a TV and VCR to Kuhler's apartment. “I was sitting on pins and needles. He loved it. He said, ‘Mr. Ingram’ — he's always formal like that — ‘Mr. Ingram, I wouldn't change a thing.’”

Renaldo Kuhler, left, and Brett Ingram

Renaldo Kuhler, left, and Brett Ingram

So far, the film “Rocaterrania” has been screened in eight film festivals — including the Cinequest San Jose Film Festival and the RiverRun International Film Festival — received a positive review in Variety and drawn the attention of The New York Times, which ran an article on Ingram and Kuhler. “The New York Times article has definitely put Renaldo and the film on the map,” Ingram says.

He hopes the film will continue to be shown at prestigious film festivals and eventually find a home with a distributor. And it will be interesting to see what happens with the film as Kuhler's work becomes more known.

Even before the NYT article, Kuhler had made plans to participate in a group show at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore in October curated by Roger Manley. The exhibition is titled “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” which Ingram finds oddly appropriate. The world of Rocaterrania grew out of Kuhler's lonely childhood with critical parents. When his family left their New York home and bought a cattle ranch in Colorado, Kuhler grew even lonelier and turned to his fantasy world.

His parents made him feel that he was wasting his time drawing Rocaterrania. Now, 60 years later, art dealers are calling him and people all around are interested in seeing his work.

Has all the attention turned his head? “Renaldo is Renaldo,” Ingram says. “He doesn't seem to change. But he is enjoying the validation. He wishes his parents were alive to see this.”

Want to see “Rocaterrania”? The N.C. Museum of Natural Science — where it all began — will show the film in August, and UNCG will host a screening in the fall. Upcoming festivals include the Maryland Film Festival in Baltimore in May and the Rhode Island International Film Festival in Providence in August. Check for specific dates later this summer.





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