Handmade Puppet Dreams

Handmade Puppet Dreams was a traveling series of short, live action puppet films organized by Heather Henson’s production company, Ibex Puppetry.  While working at Ibex on The Puppet Slam Network, I also assisted with Handmade Puppet Dreams, guest curating volume Volume 4: introducing the films at screenings in Calgary and Chicago, assisting with an exhibition of ephemera from the films, creating marketing campaigns, and setting up screenings with audiences of puppet slams.


Handmade Puppet Dreams, Vol 4 - Anney Fresh, Frankie Cordero, Martin P. Robinson
Handmade Puppet Dreams, Vol 4 – Anney Fresh, Frankie Cordero, Martin P. Robinson

In 2012 Hannah Miller wrote an Article on Ibex Puppetry and the Handmade Puppet Dreams film series for the Puppetry Journal.

More from the Puppetry Journal:

Ibex Puppetry is a creative umbrella for all of Heather’s puppetry interests, including the “weird fringe things” as she calls some of them. It acts as an outlet for her desire to support other puppet artists and promote the art of puppetry to new audiences. “I guess I’m always looking for opportunities, so I started giving other people opportunities too,” she says. “I’m motivated by the creative spirit. Going from nothing to manifesting… it’s a magical thing. But it needs to be supported and nurtured.” She’s referring to the Puppet Slam Network, Handmade Puppet Dreams film series, and Orlando Puppet Festival, three very different operations that all spring from her philanthropic impulses.

Handmade Puppet Dreams

“There’s nothing like this out there. It’s an amazing collection of puppet films and you won’t find it at your mainstream theater or video rental store,” says Handmade Puppet Dreams commissioned films producer Sam K. Hale.

Handmade Puppet Dreams began humbly, in a classroom. “I was taking a class at CalArts on producing films,” says Heather. “I thought it would be cool to produce a bunch of short films instead of one film.” She references her father’s love of short film pieces, then continues, “In that class I worked up a proposal with Tim Lagasse, and then I just did it. It really worked out well.” The first commissioned Handmade Puppet Dreams film was Tim Lagasse’s Sammy and Sofa, and Heather curated a group of already completed puppet films to join it in screening at the 2007 Newport Beach Film Festival.

After the success of that first screening, Heather’s vision grew. She conceived of a self-contained, traveling short puppet film festival that would be filled with the work of independent artists. “I love supporting the artists, getting their stuff going,” she says. So that’s exactly what she did. The films screened at Newport Beach became the core of Volume I in what evolved into the Handmade Puppet Dreams film series. Every year since, Handmade Puppet Dreams has both privately commissioned artists to create new films and accepted applications for inclusion from any artist with a completed short puppet film via the website, handmadepuppetdreams.com. Heather (and trusted friends) review the submissions and create new volumes—more than five currently. “She really wants to find filmmakers who, through the Handmade Puppet Dreams experience, can help their own inner artist blossom,” says Sam K. Hale. “She’s a great supporter of the art form!”

Handmade Puppet Dreams creates opportunities beyond just showing films for its artists and audiences as well. Gallery exhibits with puppets and art from included films, workshops by film creators, and personal appearances from auteurs and Heather herself as film event hosts or for panel discussions are all common additions to screenings. With more than 120 events to date, Handmade Puppet Dreams has traveled all over the USA, Canada, and crossed the globe to be shown in Kazakhstan, South Africa, Poland, and the Czech Republic.

Winners of Puppet Slam Network grants are able to host Handmade Puppet Dreams screenings for free to assist with their fundraising, and puppetry guilds, universities, libraries, museums, schools, and other interested organizations can apply to host a screening for just $200.00. “Handmade Puppet Dreams is not a money-making venture,” laughs Heather. “That money goes right back to the artists who make the films. We pay the artists no matter what… even if we don’t make any money in a year, I want to make sure the artists get compensated.” She calls paying the included film artists an “energy exchange,” because to her, it’s critical to communicate to individual artists how far their film has traveled, how many people have seen it, and impress upon them that their art is appreciated and valued. “All the challenges wrapped up in making a puppet film, as a low-budget project, as something that isn’t necessarily supported in the mainstream…,” says Sam K. Hale, “Fighting to make the budget work while trying to create the best film possible, feeling the pressure of everything riding on your shoulders as director, the joys of getting that perfect shot… we want to help each filmmaker make their puppet film dream come true.”

And Sam would know about those challenges, since his award-winning short film Yamasong is featured in Volume IV of Handmade Puppet Dreams. To aspiring puppet filmmakers, he says, “Make it happen.  Don’t just think about it. And make something really fantastic. There are lots of creative people that just dream about it. Take the steps toward making that dream come to life. Gather your creative resources and birth something breathtaking!” Sam urges new filmmakers to submit their work to Handmade Puppet Dreams. “I’m excited about some of the projects that have been pitched to IBEX recently. Basically, we’re building on the growth we’ve had the past few years and continuing to support artists to make their puppet films. We’re still in early talks to establish a DVD collection or make the series available online, but I’m hopeful we can make something like this happen in the near future.”

To say that exposing artists to new audiences is the goal of Handmade Puppet Dreams would be missing the bigger picture. Sam says, “Screenings of Handmade Puppet Dreams are in the same spirit as live puppet slams. It’s all geared toward helping to build a community of artists and puppet-lovers that, with enough of us doing it, could spark a creative renaissance of significant scale. That’s an exciting idea that begins with exposing whole new audiences to the possibilities.”

And that is the core of the idea that unifies the sprawl of projects at IBEX Puppetry. Heather says of IBEX that she needed a place where she could honor the creative spirit in herself and her peers in the community of puppetry. “Our ideas are valuable,” she says with passion. “Our ideas are important. Our dreams are important. But they need to be nurtured! In our society it’s hard to find a place to do that. We’re bombarded with other things.” She pauses and twists her mouth wryly. “Sometimes I get confused and I’m not sure if I’m doing it for the audience or for the artist.”