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The Visionary

From his 1939 fanzine Futuria Fantasia to the 2008 Ojai Film Festival, Ray Bradbury has lit the fires of the imagination—and the newly established Ray Bradbury Theatre and Film Foundation aims to keep the flames alive.

By Amber Lennon

 

hether you know him as the author of the book-burning novel Fahrenheit 451 or the candidly insightful predictor of future events in The Martian Chronicles, you’ll soon have an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of Ray Bradbury. With over 500 published works, the celebrated science fiction and fantasy writer has explored the cultural milieu of the technological advances of the 20th century and beyond like no one else.

John Anthony Miller and Bradbury with (in back, l. to r.) Miller’s wife, Katie Crawford, and Devin and his mom, Giselle Kelly. Photos by Giselle and Michael Kelly.

“There are scientists who say they wouldn't have become scientists if it weren't for Ray Bradbury,” says Michael Kelly, a Ventura artist and co-founder of the new Ray Bradbury Theatre and Film Foundation (RBTFF). In fact, Wehrner Von Braun, widely considered the father of NASA, said that Bradbury “had it all figured out long ago,” referring to the future of space exploration.

On November 8, the Ray Bradbury Theatre and Film Foundation, in collaboration with the Ojai Film Festival, will celebrate the author’s unparalleled vision, honoring him with a lifetime achievement award. “He is the most important living writer, an icon, a dreamer,” says David Shor, a board member of the RBTFF and the Chairman of this year’s Ojai Film Festival. “Ray has had tremendous impact on the performing arts, as well as inspiring the likes of Spielberg and the founder of Intel.”

Michael Kelly and John Anthony Miller founded the RBTFF to develop an internationally recognized festival that represents the author’s work and inspires future generations of writers, scientists, and visionaries. Miller is actually the one responsible for first bringing Bradbury to Ventura County. The owner of Phantom Bookshops—formerly in Downtown Ventura, and now online at Phantoms.com—Miller would have Bradbury in the store for book signings. Passionate about independent bookstores such as Phantom, Bradbury was always willing to contribute his time and energy, and the relationship has continued for nearly 20 years.

Aside from the Foundation's involvement in film festival agendas, Michael Kelly has larger plans for expanding Bradbury's vision. I met with him at his California Pottery and Tile Works studio (another creative endeavor for Kelly) in Midtown Ventura. It's a small courtyard behind an old wooden gate, and as I walk in it’s like being transported to a European village. The walkway is bordered with tiles glazed in aqua and antiquity gold that glints like gems. Kelly welcomes me to a round table in the meeting room and motions for me to sit in an oversized queen chair. Looking around, I immediately sense that Kelly is a time traveler himself, a likely character in one of Ray Bradbury's books. On one hand, he has immersed himself in the Old World art of tile making, and his passion for this pursuit is evidenced in every corner of the room. But as I take in tile murals and Mexican curios, a cache of movie posters, books, and movie reels catches my eye. Handwritten in permanent black are movie and book titles known for their futuristic messages: The Illustrated Man, A Sound of Thunder, Fahrenheit 451, and The Martian Chronicles, among others. Bradbury's work in the midst of such an antiquated craft as pottery and tile work poises Michael Kelly with one foot in the future and one in the past.

Sitting across from Kelly as he details the scope of the RBTFF, I feel like I'm watching a child at show-and-tell; excitement percolates in his voice. “We've got real 3D technology,” he says, his eyes widening, “without 3D glasses!” The Foundation is developing an educational project based on Bradbury's work that will target five- to 12-year-olds. One of Bradbury's goals is to introduce younger children to high concept education (such as astronomy and physics), something typically reserved for older students. But Bradbury believes that before the age of 12, the imagination has not yet been hardened by the approaching expectations of adulthood. Presented from a converted semi-truck with an inflatable 3D theater, the traveling display will provide interactive educational/arts programming for public and private schools across the nation—not just Ventura County. “It's going to be absolutely stunning,” Kelly says.

At this year’s Ojai Film Festival, a screening of an interview between Bradbury and Michael Kelly's 12-year-old son, Devin, provides a rare glimpse into the writer's mind. “I'm still a 12-year-old,” Bradbury muses to his seventh-grade interviewer, “and this 12-year-old in here is writing all these books.”

Michael Kelly with Ray Bradbury.

Inspired by watching his son’s interview, Kelly wrote a two-hour play entitled We Are Born. Three actors portray Bradbury at three ages: his present age of 88, as a young boy, and as a teenager. The performance will utilize 3D technology to show the writer's influences from the time he was a child. The three Bradbury actors will have dialogue with one another, an idea that Bradbury himself has approved with much enthusiasm. “Whatever talents I have and experiences I've had, the Foundation gives them a focus and I'm able to produce something important,” says Kelly.

The iconic author with 12-year-old interviewer Devin Kelly.

These future works of the Ray Bradbury Theatre and Film Foundation represent only the beginning of a tremendous undertaking—with the ultimate goal of initiating youths into the realm of creative invention. Bradbury insists that “the universe is alive.” And it’s no mystery how this American icon has captured the imagination of so many.

11-01-2008

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