Mark Kitchell grew up in a family of architects and artists in San Francisco during the 1960s. He went to NYU Film School in the 1970s, where his mentor was documentarian George Stoney. There he made The Godfather Comes to Sixth St., which explores the impact on his Lower East Side neighborhood of filming The Godfather Part II; it was nominated for a student Academy Award.
Kitchell spent seven years in the salt mines of Hollywood, from working as a P.A. on Grand Theft Auto to location scouting for hundreds of commercials. In 1984 he returned to the Bay Area to make Berkeley in the Sixties. It was the Reagan era and no public funding was to be had; so he raised funds from a thousand individuals, which benefited the film by rooting it in the community. Although it took six years to make, Berkeley in the Sixties proved to be a great success. Winner of top honors, a critical and audience favorite, taught to generations of students, shown by parents to children and the reverse, the film has become a classic.
After attempts to escape the fate of an independent filmmaker, Kitchell returned to documentary in 2008 to make A Fierce Green Fire. It was a massive undertaking; and thanks to volunteers, collaborators, funders and Marc Weiss, founder of the series P.O.V. who came aboard as Executive Producer, we just made it to Sundance – then went home and finished the film. Mark and daughter Celia organized three hundred grassroots screenings, a phenomenal feat of indie distribution. The capper was national broadcast on PBS’s American Masters on Earth Day 2014.
Evolution of Organic grew out of A Fierce Green Fire. Funding came more quickly and easily. The film was finished in two years, breaking Mark’s land speed record by more than half. The creative process went well, especially working with master editor Robert Dalva. Heroes on the funding front included the Gaia Fund and David Bronner. Struggles came in raising completion funds and distribution. We organized over one hundred screenings, but were unable to get a television broadcast or consumer video distributor . Now we are launching our own distribution.
Whether it’s fate or fortune, Mark has made a series of social histories of social change movements. Next up is Cannabis Chronicles – for more, see the next page, In The Works.