Pressing On: The Letterpress Film (2016)

While to most people letterpress printing is a relic of the past, to those passionate about it it’s an art form, a way to remember and honor the past.

Writers/directors Erin Beckloff and Andrew P. Quinn put a documentary together for a very niche interest subject and made it accessible and interesting for any viewer with even just an iota of a remote interest or knowledge of the subject. The film here is one of those documentaries that is so well done, it gives them importance. The exploration of the subject is deep enough for even aficionados to find something of interest here, but also it’s clear enough that newbie to letterpress art are not going to be completely lost.

The film mixes archival footage with a bunch load of interviews. These interviews are not as numerous as with other recent documentaries, but the few people speaking are knowledgeable and engaging and keeping their number low helps create a focus on each of them. These include Paul Aken, Stephanie Carpenter, Richard Hopkins, Jim Moran, Adam Winn, and Tammy Win. The interviews are done in their own letterpress printing environment, may it be a garage, a basement, an actual shop, or even an art fair. Their interviews are filled with honest passion and a true interest in wanting to educate the general public about their beloved art. Each of them is soft spoken yet fascinating to listen to, they are passionate and the best teachers to share this marvelous art form.

Pressing On: The Letterpress Film is a well-shot, well-framed film with cinematography by Joseph Vella who does fantastic work of filming all the environments and making them all very welcoming, even when surrounded by old metal machinery. His work imbues the film with inviting warmth. The editing by Dustin Demerot, Freddie Murphy, and Andrew P. Quinn works great with these images, including old school footage, creating a very specific style for the film and bringing all the images together in a cohesive way.

Pressing On: The Letterpress Film is clearly made with passion and love for its subject and for sharing it with the world. The interviewees teach the viewer a thing or twelve about letterpress printing by telling their personal stories and the history of the practice. These interviews mixed with archival footage create a dynamic and welcoming feel to the proceedings. As an 80s kid, the film has a feel at times that’s like a grown-up version of the “how stuff works” segments on television shows like Passe-Partout or Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. It feels like home, yet the viewer ends up learning something about a subject new to them or even when they are already familiar with it.