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Barbarian Press
In the age of mechanical reproduction, this intimate, beautiful film celebrates handmade pursuits. Jan and Crispin Elsted have been making fine art books by letterpress for over 30 years. Partners in life and work, the couple are achingly aware they may be the last of a kind.
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Barbarian Press

Running Time
17 minutes

Barbarian Press

There are books written about living an authentic life. The lives of Jan and Crispin Elsted are inarguably authentic — not because they read books, but because they produce them using techniques hundreds of years old. Rather than embrace the “plastic fantastic” world emerging around them in the late 20th century, the Elsteds became fascinated with “the idea of being able to make things, to learn how it was done.” From their home filled with shelves of metal type and a variety of printing presses ranging from merely vintage to positively antique, the husband and wife team turn out books that are as much a joy to handle as they are to read. Filmmaker Sarah Race offers a film much like the Elsteds themselves: sentimental, contemplative, and genuine.

Filmmaker Notes:

I simply wanted to know why? Why in a world where you can choose 1000’s of fonts on a computer, read Shakespeare on your phone, and store more books than you could read in a lifetime on an e-reader that fits in your back pocket, why go through the process of printing a book by letterpress? It is not exactly efficient, it is expensive, and is extremely time consuming to print a book letter by letter and print it page by page. There must be a reason why Jan and Crispin are drawn to create books this way.

I like most folks began this project thinking they were quirky oddities that had a thing for Shakesphere. I was wrong. I had simply absorbed that idea from the consumerist culture we live in that prizes efficiency and cost over almost everything else. But, Jan and Crispin do not live by the same set of rules, they live in a world where their values operate under a different scale, the top of which is the concept of beauty. They value it almost as if it were a religion. It is what they strive to create on a daily basis.

Jan and Crispin do not simply create books, they are creating a tactile world that can be felt and touched and in whose beauty will be passed on from generation to generation. It made me consider how much of my own life is narrowed down to a screen and how my world needs to involve more of my senses if I am ever to appreciate the fullness of the world, and not just a flat pixel based image of it.

Film details
Year(s) screened
  • 2016
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