"Handmade Nation" at Modified Arts Crafty Antidote to "Prozac Nation"

While some of us race to the SSRIs for serenity, others of us have decided that taking up a craft for comfort and creative expression is the way to go. Actually, some of us, like me, for instance, do both for balance.

Blame it on either early 60's back-to-nature hippie culture or maybe Martha Stewart's elegant entertaining excess of the 80's (even I succumbed to the lure of her cheese-piped endive appetizers). Or perhaps it's the primordial human need to make beautiful and/or useful things that's the root cause. Who knows exactly how the current Do-It-Yourself craft movement caught fire. "Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design," an in-depth documentary film about the meteoric rise in popularity of handmade arts and crafts, especially those with a punk aesthetic, explores the ethos that has led to the fascination with all things fun, funky and homemade.

Directed and produced by artist Faythe Levine, the indie film was screened on Saturday at Modified Arts in downtown Phoenix (there will be a Sunday screening at 2 p.m.). It drew quite a crowd, including Phoenix's own syndicated Crafty Chica herself, Kathy Cano-Murillo, who was conducting a taped interview with the filmmaker when I walked in. Changing Hands Bookstore, Frances Boutique, Roosevelt Row, Local First, F.A.R. Future Arts Research at ASU, Local First AZ, MADE art boutique and Modified Arts partnered to bring the film, which has been screened in major cities around the world, to Phoenix.

According to "Handmade Nation," the American arts and crafts surge is attributable in no small measure to a backlash against mass production pushed down our throats by corporate globalization, which, in turn, has decimated the down-home mom-and-pop shops we were raised with and our ability to craft our own culture. It's a definite strike against the chain store mentality, a well-aimed blow against the homogenized blandness we're forcefed by Walmart, the Gap and a thousand other brands of their ilk. And let's not forget about the eco-coolness of contemporary craft -- it's a great way to recycle all that crap, too good to pitch, that we cram into our closets, not to mention the stuff that chokes our thrift stores, garages and landfills.

Be it through knitting, calligraphy, bookmaking, quilting, printmaking or refrigerator magnet making, artists, designers and everyday folk are becoming one with their inner creative life force. Not that everyone is going to be able to make a living off their handcrafted jewelry made from gum wrappers or one-of-a-kind dress designs cobbled from seat belts and air filters. It's in the doing -- not what's finally done -- that ultimately satisfies the soul starved for real human touch.

A companion book bearing the same name as the movie by Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl is available locally at Made Boutique and Changing Hands Bookstore. Plans are in the works to release the movie on DVD, so check the movie website for current availability.

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Kathleen Vanesian