In 2008, Jazz pianist Fred Hersch went into a two-month coma caused by an HIV virus that had traveled to his brain, which then triggered AIDS-related dementia. The experience revealed to him how difficult it is to articulate what being sick sounds and looks like. Hersch decided to create a language -- visual and musical, private and open -- to describe living with a long-term illness. That language developed into a multi-media performance called My Coma Dreams.
Built around a series of dreams and nightmares that Fred experienced while recovering from his coma, the live performance includes an 11-piece orchestra, singing, spoken word and projections of animation and other visual effects that illustrate Hersch's experience of sinking into and beginning to heal from a gravely serious and lifelong illness.
After reading about Hersch in The New York Times, filmmakers Charlotte Lagarde and Carrie Lozano were inspired to develop a full-length documentary film tracing the production of My Coma Dreams from its first notes to its live performances in venues around the world. This Thursday, Lagarde and Lozano will screen clips and have a conversation about their documentary-in-progress in the screening room at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
The screening will show pieces of the documentary in its nascent stage (filming began last December). In a telephone conversation, Charlotte Lagarde noted that she and Lozano are using the making of My Coma Dreams, which is the largest work Hersch has ever produced, as "the spine for the story about the story of Fred." He is a prolific artist and an inspiring activist. "There is something very appealing about Hersch, since he is into creating this huge piece and sending [it] out into the world."
Charlotte continued, "Dreams are natural transitions to intimate portraits of Fred," and the filmmakers see these dreams as points of entry into Fred's process composing this epic project. Up until now, the documentary has focused primarily on the behind-the-scenes making of My Coma Dreams. Charlotte and Carrie are setting out to also develop an intimate portrait of the man as a musician and an activist within the medical community.
The filmmakers are adamant that this is not just a biography. Lagarde and Lozano are focusing on Fred as he is now and how he approaches every day with urgency and precision. The conversation and screening will be an excellent introduction to Hersch as a musician, activist and leader. Even while doing the most simple daily tasks, Fred's personality and aggressive motivation to live every day to its fullest make him a great documentary subject.
Hersch's live performance of My Coma Dreams will debut in San Francisco on October 30, 2011 at the Herbst Theater.
Filming Performance: Work-in-Progress Screening and Discussion with Carrie Lozano and Charlotte Lagarde is Thursday, September 8, 7:30pm at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. For more information visit ybca.org.