The Genius of a Place

Please help us finish this documentary about the fragility of places in the modern world.
Sarah Marder
6 Team Members

Become a Genius Movie Producer and you'll be among the first to help make this film a reality

We're proud to be making this film and believe you'll be proud to have supported it. 

note: Contributions made by US tax payers are deductible because THE GENIUS OF A PLACE has been 
granted a Fiscal Sponsorship by a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Find more information below.

Four of five crew members (Sarah, 'Aqua', Max, and Mattia) together 
with Frances Mayes , far left, while filming an interview at Bramasole,     the author's home in Cortona made famous by 'Under the Tuscan Sun' 
 (photo by Ed Mayes)

Come Join Us!

You (yes, you!) can play a crucial role in helping us finish this independent, donor-supported film and getting it 'out there'. 

We've been working for over two years on THE GENIUS OF A PLACE and we've done an extraordinary amount of work under our own steam. We've taken this as far as we can on our own and we need help to reach the finish line. In short, we hope you'll decide to join the Genius team and play your part in making this film a reality. 

We're done filming (in gorgeous Tuscany) and now we need to do all the things (and pay all the people...) it takes to transform raw footage into a finished film.

This campaign represents our 'coming out' in many ways, bringing us out of the cocoon of the production company and into the wider world. By supporting us from the very beginning of the film's public life, we believe you'll be able to boast later that you were one of the first ones to hop on the Genius train. Here are five reasons why you might want to get involved and become a 'Genius' Movie Producer.

You Can Help Us Move Forward

Up until now we've worked on a Do-It-Yourself basis and we've gotten pretty far on our own. But we can't go on this way forever. We've spent over $20,000 of our own money and we've racked up a multiple of that in time that we could have been billing to clients. It's been a labor of love and we've done it gladly. 

But we also know that now we're ready to reach out to find other like-minded people who are happy to help us finish this wonderful project. By doing so, we'll be moving out of DIY mode into DIWO, which means Doing-It-With-Others. That'll be really nice for us and hopefully for you, too. 

This specific IndieGoGo campaign will allow us to dedicate three weeks to full-time editing work on our footage which we're distilling into a 90 minute film. It'll also allow us to deposit $5,000 in our bank account to cover the constant flow of petty production-related expenses, so we can stop paying for them from our own pockets. This will be welcome relief for us. 

Outside of IndieGoGo we'll also be working to fundraise through other channels such as grants, donations, events and pre-sales. We'll keep our IndieGoGo supporters informed of how we're doing on those fronts, too.

You'll Be Making a Movie with a Message

We're really excited about the film we're making. Its overarching message is that we should all take care of our own little patch of the earth.  If we don't, who will?  We hope you'll want to join us in this adventure which combines filmmaking and advocacy. By contributing whatever you can, this is your golden opportunity to become a Producer of a "movie with a message". 

If you want to know more about the film, read on! 

[note: this might be far more than you'll want to read, but it's a big project and we feel we should provide ample information]

Sundance, Here We Come!

We're a goal-oriented society so we better tell you right away about one of our objectives. We're aiming to début 'The Genius' at the ultra-prestigious Sundance Film Festival in January 2013. 

We fell in love with Sundance when we went in 2010, very early in our 'Genius' filming process. During our week in Park City, Utah we decided that that we'd do everything we could to début our finished film there. While at Sundance, we had a great opportunity to talk about 'The Genius' on the morning show dedicated to Sundance films

There are 4 details (several of which inter-connected) that stand between us and our Sundance 2013 début:

1.) we need to finish the film in time to submit it by their September 2012 deadline

2.) to do that, we'll need to work on the film at a steady clip between now and then

3.) to do that, we'll need to have enough money in the bank to pay ourselves and all the other professionals we need to help us finish the film

4.) selection to Sundance is so (insanely) competitive that just one in fifty films (200 out of over 10,000 submissions) makes the cut.... so we'll need the stars to align for us in a major way to make it in. 

All that said, we're giving it everything we've got. Won't you be excited to see the film you've supported start getting public exposure?

You can help us stay on track by contributing now and suggesting that your friends do the same! 

Check out our perks, all meant to share with you a little bit of Italy's 'genius'  -- we hope you'll find something that fits your tastes... and your wallet!  Each one of our perks is 'stand-alone' so mix and match to your heart's content! 

We All Care for the Genius of a Place (We Just Don't Always Know It)

Over the last century we humans have lived with a dizzying pace of change. Although we might not focus consciously on this rapid evolution, when we think about it, we realize that places we love have changed both for better and for worse within the last few decades. Many seem to be losing their 'genius' and their sense of community.  
(Photo courtesy of Prof. Duilio Peruzzi)

In terms of the film itself, we believe we're ready to tell a story that's going to resonate with a lot of people. Most of us have had the experience of being saddened to see a place we love change beyond recognition. That's what happened to Sarah, who fell in love with Cortona, a little town in Tuscany, when she first went there twenty-five years ago. 

Back then the town seemed lost in time, living in a simpler way. That now seems like a distant memory. Today the town overflows with visitors, eateries and boutiques. Artisans have disappeared and so have most stores that served local residents. Population in the town center is dwindling as locals sell to foreigners willing to pay high prices for a vacation home. Residents feel disenfranchised and no longer collectively care for their community the way they did in the past. It risks becoming a no-man's land, with no one looking out for its long-term interests.

We're Telling a Story of Change

The story told in THE GENIUS OF A PLACE has already begun touching the chords of people around the world. We get messages all the time from people in places as seemingly different as Thailand, Canada, Portugal, Croatia, Wales, Sri Lanka, and the United States saying that they recognize the story of their own beloved place in our trailer or clips. Modernization has accelerated the pace of change around the world and often has led to places of exceptional beauty being harmed or even ravaged. People only realize what has happened when it's already too late. That's why THE GENIUS OF A PLACE will encourage viewers to act as stewards of their own communities, safeguarding their resources and treasures before they are ruined or destroyed. 

Looking at pictures from fifty or one hundred years ago we are shocked to see what we've subsequently done to these places. As an example, look at these rare archival images of daily life in Cortona in the late 1950s and you'll see how quickly we have changed the world around us. 

We've paved over fertile land to make parking lots, built massive highways, constructed sprawling factories and strewn the world with a tangle of electrical lines. In 1924 Burton Holmes referred to this as the 'disturbing hand of progress'.  It's far more evident today than it possibly could have been then.  Yet we tend not to notice it or think about it. Sure, we're all looking for economic growth but who's paying attention to the hidden costs? Who's working to develop a place while considering the long-term interests of the place and the people who live there? 

We're Making a Film with a Universal Theme

THE GENIUS OF A PLACE uses Cortona, an ancient hill town in Tuscany as a symbol for communities all around the globe. In today's world, where places quickly become globalized, it's a struggle to find a balance between development and conservation of all that makes a place beautiful, unique, livable and sustainable. 

This pattern occurs all over the globe. With slight variations, the story goes like this: a somewhat backwards place understandably seeks economic growth then finds itself grappling with complex, unforeseen trade-offs between desired prosperity and the place's character, beauty and livability. These are the hidden costs of development. While most of us pay no conscious attention to this trend, we are surrounded by it. Here's a clip exploring the universality of the themes broached in 'The Genius'.

In THE GENIUS OF A PLACE we chose to photograph this global phenomenon through the experience of one specific place. In the case of Cortona, the single largest catalyst for change was the bestselling book then Hollywood movie 'Under the Tuscan Sun'.  Thanks to the notoriety that they bestowed on Cortona, 400,000 visitors now flock each year to admire the beauty of this little place. This massive influx of people has created a dizzying pace of change in this once sleepy, semi-isolated town. Most residents don't know what to make of it. The place they've always known and loved is slipping away from them. Through the story of one place we feel we'll tell the story of many. 

Want to Know Even More?

These links should lead you directly to the information you're looking for:

Moreover, you can check out our presence on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and our 'Genius' Website

Want to Know Our Story?

We five crew members have pooled our skills to explore a topic that we find both fascinating and important. Together we're capturing some of the complexities involved in taking care of a place in a mobile world, where people are far less rooted, committed and involved than in the past.  
(photo by Antonio Carloni) 

We're five filmmakers who've been working for over two years to make THE GENIUS OF A PLACE, a feature-length documentary about the fragility of places of beauty. If you want to get to know us (Sarah, Max, Mattia, Andrea and 'Aqua') a bit better, you'll enjoy Meet the Crew.

To date, we have self-produced all of our work. In other words, we have paid all our own expenses and we have received no pay for all the time we have dedicated to the project. We each have our own reasons for doing such a seemingly crazy thing but there are some common denominators. The main one is that we all believe deeply in the project and in the film's message. The second one is that we see the 'Genius' as a great way to expand ourselves creatively and professionally. 

While motivated by enthusiasm for the subject and belief in the film's potential, it hasn't always been easy. If you want to see some our many mishaps during the filming process, check out Behind-the-Scenes. 

Now we've finally finished filming and just want to lock ourselves  in the editing room so we can distill our footage into a 90 minute film. As you will have gathered, this campaign is to help us secure TIME TO EDIT OUR GENIUS FOOTAGE.  

We've Got Great Footage

We feel we've done a lot under our own steam. Finishing all our filming was a huge undertaking for us, requiring seven shoots in which the crew spent several weeks on location, spread out over two years. We feel we've got plenty of great footage and we're ready to do all the work (called post-production) to turn our raw material into a finished product. 

We've had the good luck to interview dozens of thoughtful people including legendary actors Jeremy Irons and Anthony Hopkins, Frances Mayes, author of 'Under the Tuscan Sun', director Abbas Kiarostami, Italian superstar Lorenzo 'Jovanotti' Cherubini and Australian rocker Nick Cester. On top of that, we've recorded the actions and perspectives of dozens of people who form a representative mosaic of what's going on in this community. 

During our filming process, we gathered a wide variety of view points, speaking to elderly farmers and the Mayor, merchants and shoppers, retired people and young people, local folk and foreigners who are there for a visit or who now live there all or most of the year. We also spoke to a sprinkling of celebreties who visited Cortona. (photo by Antonio Carloni)

You can see clips and a trailer on our YouTube channel. Here's a sampling to get you started: 

Jeremy Irons

Anthony Hopkins 

Frances Mayes
love them or lose them

things change

big city lights


This is just the tip of the iceberg of our footage. It's like showing you a sketch of what will become a vast mural. It gives some vague sense but cannot substitute or fully convey the finished work. That's why we need you!

You Can Help Us

Now we need your support to finish the film. Making a film is a gargantuan undertaking. One crucial part of this process is editing.  Transforming raw footage into a film translates to untold hours in the editing room and also the services of many professionals (ever noticed how long closing credits are on a film?). We've already begun our editing process but progress has been slow and uneven because we've been doing it in scraps of time between paid work.

To really pull it all together and finish our rough cut, we need to dedicate large chunks of time exclusively to this project. That's what it takes to achieve "unity" in a creative work. And yet we're not in a position to close down the production company to work on an unpaid basis. Niggling irritants such as paying the rent and utility bills get in the way. 

That's where you come in. You can become a Genius supporter. Right now you can help us get the time we need in the editing room. By doing so, you will be helping us transform our raw and semi-edited footage into a finished, cinematographic quality film. Whether you give $10 or $10,000, you'll be a Movie Producer. 


So Go Ahead and Brag!

As soon as you make a contribution, feel free to brag to all your friends that you're helping produce a movie filmed in a gorgeous and cool location and featuring such legendary actors as Jeremy Irons and Anthony Hopkins. We hope you'll make your friends writhe with envy, so they too want to become Genius supporters!

If you happen to be the tree-hugging, conservation-minded sort (like Sarah!), you can also talk about how this is a film with an eco-message. You'll identify with Sarah, the leading character and yet anything-but-famous person worried about the long-term effects of rapid development in a place she loves... and wondering if she has the power to do anything about it. Through Sarah's eyes you'll see the residents of Cortona grapple with the trade-offs between development and conservation. We think you'll recognize aspects of a place you fear is changing beyond recognition or repair.  You and other viewers will contemplate how powerful mechanized mankind has become, rendering places of beauty ever more vulnerable. 

What's more, you'll be able to use the finished film as a tool to marshall support for conservation efforts in your own special place. That's because THE GENIUS OF A PLACE is a film that encourages viewers to take care of the places they love, wherever they may happen to be and no matter what type of development they are pursuing. That's a pretty cool message, isn't it? 

How It Works

We're running our TIME TO EDIT OUR GENIUS FOOTAGE campaign here on IndieGoGo through December 31, 2011. During that time, we'll work to raise at least $20,000. We'll be doing all we can to get the word out via friends, fans, blogs and the press.  We'll ask you to help us spread the word.  

We see this as a great opportunity for us. We know that the more money we raise, the more quickly we'll be able to finish the film. It's that simple. 

We're a small group of people and while we have abundant complementary skills, we can only do so many things at once. That means that if we have to dedicate lots of time to fund-raising, then we have practically no time for working on the film. The flip side is that if we raise a fair amount of money, we can and will switch gears instantaneously, investing all our time, energy and funds into finishing 'The Genius'. 

You Can Help Us Reach the Tipping Point

You are far more important in this process than you realize. In crowdfunding, every little bit counts. It's one of those cases where "little things can make a big difference". If enough people start actively supporting a project, it can reach a 'Tipping Point'.  When that happens, it just takes off and everybody wants to hop on board. Then success breeds more success. How great is that?

When a project reaches a tipping point in crowdfunding, it improves the chance of receiving funding from other sources since funders understandably like to see that a project is receiving public support. Of course, competition for funds is incredibly competitive.  A 'hot' crowdfunding campaign sends a strong signal to funders that a project is both credible and appealing. 

This all means that by contributing to our crowdfunding efforts, you can help us position ourselves to raise funds more effectively in other spheres too.  Again, how great is that? 

The Film's Approach and Impact

We see THE GENIUS OF A PLACE as a virtual piazza, a place where you can hear what others have to say about what's going on in town, which you'll then mull over and decide what is relevant to your own situation.   It'll expose you to a wider range of perspectives than when you talk to people in your own circle. 

As we've already said, through the story of one little town, THE GENIUS OF A PLACE investigates challenges faced by communities all around the world. Whether we notice it or not, the beauty, livability and sustainability of countless places are at risk. That's both sad and scary. Yet we don't want to send people on a guilt trip or frighten them might. We're aiming to inspire viewers and we think of THE GENIUS as a 'wake-up kiss', a welcome gesture that leaves people feeling awake and full of energy, ready to channel their enthusiasm into taking care of places they love. 

Once the film is finished, people and groups will be able to use it as a tool to spark dialogue and civic engagement in their efforts to hone in on the 'genius' of their own communities. They can use the film to start or strengthen their own grassroots movements. Now that we're done filming we're starting to connect with people and non-profit organizations that feel affinity for our mission and messages. By the time we're ready to release the film we envision having a host of people all around the globe excited about using THE GENIUS OF A PLACE to encourage others to discover, nurture and protect the Genius of their little corner of the world. 

Doesn't planetary and human health depend upon us all taking care of our own little patch of the earth? Is there any other way?  If you agree that there isn't, you'll want to be involved with helping us finish this film and getting it out into the wider world. The messages conveyed by THE GENIUS OF A PLACE are universal, timely, important and urgent. Yet the style is engaging and enjoyable. How great is that?  

Wouldn't you be proud to help a film like this be made? We certainly hope so. We can tell you that we're proud to be making it!

Tax Deductibility

Contributions made by US tax payers are deductible because THE GENIUS OF A PLACE has been granted a Fiscal Sponsorship by a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Fiscal sponsorships serve as incubators to community-oriented projects which in the start-up phase almost inevitably don't have the size and structure to venture out on their own. Fiscal Sponsorship is the norm among American independent films. Every project is a start-up seedling that requires outside support and care to grow into a finished film. Subsidies in this realm are scarce so Fiscal Sponsorship act as indirect subsidies to the Arts or, in this particular case, towards the realm of independent filmmaking. 

Our Fiscal Sponsor, From the Heart Productions, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to funding films that "are unique and make a contribution to society". It was founded in 1992 by Carole Dean, an experienced film professional. Carole delights in helping "make films that might otherwise never have been made".  THE GENIUS OF A PLACE is one of the lucky films to be supported by Carole, and she has promised she'll mentor us all the way through distribution. 

International Contributions Are Welcome, Too!

The flip side of the deduction for US tax payers is that potential contributors from other countries might decide not to support us financially since they have no tax benefit. If that's you, we beg you to think twice! Calling all Noble Souls out there! Perhaps you'll give less, but if you love what we're doing and want us to finish the film as well and quickly as possibly, please consider making at least the minimum contribution. Lots of small contributions add up and it'll be a huge help to us if people all around the world make the noble gesture of contributing even without the tax incentive. It'll help us financially and it will also help send a signal that this film's messages are of interest to people everywhere.  

A Few More Things

Please know that:

1.) we will apply all the funds we receive to completing THE GENIUS OF A PLACE as quickly and as well as possible;

2.) we consider your hard-earned money to be precious and we'll use it responsibly and wisely;

3.) we're 'seven months pregnant' and we're going to make this film no matter how much money we raise;

4.) and finally, if we were to exceed our $20,000 goal, even substantially, that simply means that we'll be able to dedicate much more time to finishing the film than to the fundraising process. And take our word for it: that is any filmmaker's dream come true. 

If you want to contact us

If this project is kind of growing on you and you want to contact the filmmakers, please contact us by:

- posting a comment here on our IndieGoGo page
- writing private comments to any of the team members, listed at the bottom of this page
- posting on our Facebook page
- writing to

We want to hear your thoughts and ideas! 

What If You Don't Feel Like Making a Contribution

It's alright if you don't feel like making a contribution. We won't hold a grudge. Besides, there's another vital way you can help: by spreading the word! 

Be a Genius Megaphone!

The secret of crowdfunding success lies in the number of people reached by a campaign so it's incredibly important to us that you take a few minutes and spread this message as widely as you possibly can. By doing so, you'll be magnifying our voice. This can be decisive in helping speed THE GENIUS OF A PLACE towards completion. 

We thank you. So will our lovely planet and future generations who will inhabit it. May the Genius be with you!  

Find This Campaign On
raised by 129 people in 3 months
103% funded
No time left
Verified Nonprofit
$20,000 USD goal
Flexible Funding This campaign has ended and will receive all funds raised.
Campaign Closed
This campaign ended on December 31, 2011
In partnership with
Select a Perk
  • $10USD
    noble soul (everywhere)

    For your contribution you'll get three immaterial things: 1.) an email expressing the filmmakers' heartfelt "grazie!" with a printable digital behind-the-scenes photo 2.) bragging rights about helping produce a cool movie filmed in Tuscany and 3.) inclusion among the ranks of people helping us finish the film purely for the satisfaction of knowing they're part of the Genius team. You're not one to say 'all I got was a lousy photo'. You're helping us more than you can know and we love you for it!

    11 claimed
  • $20USD
    charitable soul (everywhere)

    for your generosity you'll get a big "grazie" and digital photo from the crew, bragging rights about helping make this film PLUS a recipe for panzanella, a humble yet delicious Tuscan dish. Sarah will send you her own recipe, which almost always gets thumbs up from Italians (notoriously never shy about criticizing food). You can see a picture here: Sure you can download recipes for free, but here you're helping a film be made!

    25 claimed
  • $30USD
    brave soul (everywhere)

    Here you'll get something of questionable value: a digital 6-minute video called "Postcards from Venice". This unique work chronicles Sarah's recent day at the Venice Film Festival via vaporetto with views of St. Marks, Venetian facades and arched bridges. Stream-of-consciousness text annotates each scene, sharing Sarah's every thought, such as a sudden concern that frumpy sandals aren't suited to the occasion. This is a LIMITED EDITION because Sarah doesn't want many copies floating around...

    10 out of 15 claimed
  • $40USD
    sweet soul (everywhere)

    If you love chocolate, this is the perk for you because you'll get something Sarah was dying to have herself: the secret (yet unbelievably easy) recipe for pastry chef Alessio Burroni's trademark chocolate dessert. Alessio entrusted us with his recipe to show his support for 'The Genius'. When your friends beg you for it, we hope you'll be a good sport and send them back to us! LIMITED EDITION because it's meant to be kept a secret.

    20 out of 25 claimed
  • $60USD
    epicurean soul (everywhere)

    Brag about how you've become a Movie Producer PLUS we'll send you a link to ten gorgeous, high-resolution food photos that'll make your mouth water. Print these and hang them in your kitchen and you'll feel like you're surrounded by produce from Cortona's Saturday market. The pictures are by Milanese photographer Martina Bragadin, who dedicated two days to capturing the 'genius' of Cortona. Martina selected these images from over 500 and donated them to show her support for 'The Genius'.

    9 out of 10 claimed
  • $75USD
    information-seeking soul

    With this perk you'll be able to arrange a phone call with Sarah who will answer any questions you have. Maybe you'd like to hear "what it's really like to live in Italy" or how she ended up moving to Milan after graduating from college. Or maybe you're interested in knowing more about "The Genius of a Place". No matter what, this would be an opportunity to chat about whatever you have on your mind. The call will either by on Skype or Sarah will call you.

    2 out of 5 claimed

    easy-going soul

    Spend some time with Sarah the next time you're in Milan or she's in London, New York or some other mutually convenient place. Sarah will regale you with stories, write you a limerick on-the-spot, draw you a picture, sign a crew photo or anything else along those lines that'll make you feel your $100 has been well-spent. And even if she doesn't manage to produce anything of museum quality or that tickles your fancy, feel proud knowing that your contribution is helping the crew finish the film.

    5 out of 5 claimed

    generous soul

    We'll send you a collection of 5 miniature Tuscan watercolor paintings 12x12cm (4.5x4.5 inches) incl. mat frame. While each unique, this photo gives a sense. They'll each come with a note from Sarah saying the purchase contributed to work on The Genius of a Place. You can enjoy them yourself or keep them on hand when you have a gift-giving occasion. They're not fancy but are very nice looking and definitely express something of the 'genius' of Tuscany.

    2 out of 2 claimed

    knowledge-seeking soul

    When in Cortona, would you like to learn about the town’s ancient past from experts? You’ll be treated to a tour of Cortona’s MAEC Museum, which houses Etruscan masterpieces, and also of the Etruscan monumental tomb Il Sodo, led by archaeologists Helena Fracchia (Univ. of Alberta) and Maurizio Gualtieri (Univ. of Perugia). Helena and Maurizio are donating their time to accompany 3 lucky groups (maximum 10 people each) and the MAEC is donating tickets to support our fundraising efforts.

    5 out of 5 claimed
  • $1,000USD
    luxury-living soul

    Want to spend a wonderful week in Cortona? With this contribution you'll get a 20% discount on a week's rent plus a free welcome dinner for 6 at one of Cortona's most beautiful properties, Villa Ugo. The value of the discount varies by season and rental property. In many cases you'll save money. No matter what, you're helping a film be made. You can see the properties on and can contact them for rates. The discount is good through 31 Dec 2013. This is a LIMITED EDITION.

    1 out of 2 claimed
  • $2,000USD
    advocate & patron of the arts

    You see this independent film as a way to support the Arts and/or strengthen your advocacy work. We will thank you in the film's closing credits. If you're considering supporting THE GENIUS OF A PLACE with this substantial contribution and want more information or a tailor-made perk, contact Sarah at and strike a Genius deal. Or maybe you'd like to consider contributing far more for an honorary Associate Producer or Co-Producer role? If so, again, please contact Sarah

    2 out of 10 claimed
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