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(photo by Sam Norval /  Corner of the Cave Media)

Illustrator Tomi Ungerer talks about his fascinating life in compelling documentary (photo by Sam Norval / Corner of the Cave Media)

IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Monday, January 19, 8:00
Winter series runs Tuesdays at 8:00 through March 24

“I am a self-taught raving maniac, but not as crazy as Tomi, or as great as Tomi,” Maurice Sendak says early on in Brad Bernstein’s engaging documentary, Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story, adding, “He was disarming and funny and not respectable at all.” Another children’s book legend, Jules Feiffer, feels similarly, explaining, “Tomi was this wonderfully brilliant, innovative madman.” Born in Alsace in 1931, Tomi Ungerer developed a remarkably diverse career as an illustrator, incorporating the emotional turmoil he suffered after losing his father when he was still a young child and then living under Nazi rule. In Far Out Isn’t Far Enough, Ungerer takes Bernstein and the audience on a fascinating journey through his personal and professional life, traveling to Strasbourg, Nova Scotia, New York City, and Ireland, which all served as home to him at one time or another as he wrote and illustrated such picture books as The Three Robbers and Crictor for editor Ursula Nordstrom, made bold political posters in support of the civil rights movement and against the Vietnam War, and published a book of erotic drawings, Fornicon, that ultimately led to a twenty-three-year exile from America during which he stopped making books for children. “I am full of contradictions, and why shouldn’t I be?” the eighty-one-year-old Ungerer says in the film. Ungerer discusses how he uses fear, tragedy, and trauma as underlying themes in his stories, trusting that kids can handle that amid the surreal nature of his entertaining tales.

He opens up his archives, sharing family photographs and old film footage, which reveal that he’s been pushing the envelope for a very long time, unafraid of the consequences. He also visits the Eric Carle Museum to check out a retrospective of his work for children, appropriately titled “Tomi Ungerer: Chronicler of the Absurd.” Meanwhile, Rick Cikowski animates many of Ungerer’s drawings, bringing to life his characters, both for children and adults, adding another dimension to this wonderful documentary. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough is a lively, engaging film about a seminal literary figure with an infectious love of life and art, and a unique take on the ills of society, that is a joy to behold. The film kicks off the IFC Center’s winter season of Stranger than Fiction on January 19 at 8:00, followed by a Q&A with Bernstein and Ungerer; Ungerer aficionados will also want to check out the new exhibit ”Tomi Ungerer: All in One” at the Drawing Center through March 22. Stranger than Fiction continues Tuesday nights through March 24 with such other nonfiction works as The Hand that Feeds, Freeway: A Crack in the System, Occupation: Dreamland, Seymour: An Introduction, and A Dangerous Game; each screening will be followed by a Q&A with the director(s), producer(s), and/or subject.

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