Searching for perfection in marble


From Malibu to Italy, the documentary film, “Through the Eyes of the Sculptor,” follows Emmanuel Fillion as he searches for the perfect marble block.

By Ward Lauren / Special to the Malibu Times

“I needed to find out what I wanted to do with my life. It just came natural to be a stone carver.”

With these simple words, classic sculptor Emmanuel Fillion of Malibu opens “Through the Eyes of the Sculptor,” an inspiring documentary highlighting his work, to be shown at a special screening Saturday afternoon at the Santa Monica Public Main Library.

Fillion, who is currently in Italy working on a major commission involving a 14-17 foot high sculpture destined for installation in Atlanta, is expected to return to California this week for five days before returning to Europe to complete his project.

In the film-produced, directed and narrated by Gina Minervini-he relates that he was born in Emeville, France, a small village surrounded by limestone quarries and began carving at an early age. By the age of 15, he was an apprentice sculptor in the restoration of historic monuments. However, the documentary is much more than a biography.

“I call it a ‘docustory,'” Minervini said, “because it’s more the story of a journey, and of the people you meet along the way. We started shooting in Emmanuel’s studio in Malibu, then went to Paris where he learned to sculpt, and then on to Northern Tuscany in Italy, where sculptors have traveled for centuries in search of the perfect marble for their work.”

The resulting film, which took two years to shoot, is sort of a combination personal story, travelogue and history lesson, and art exhibition. A charming appearance in the film is that of Fillion’s son Camilo, who at age three and a half also sculpts for the camera, reminiscent of his father’s own early start in the field.

For anyone involved in or especially interested in any phase of the art of sculpture, “Through the Eyes of the Sculptor” is a riveting and fascinating experience. Early in the film, along the Seine River in Paris, Fillion explains the carving process at a restoration site on the Pont Neuf Bridge.

“A sculpture comes alive in clay, dies in plaster and is reborn again in marble,” he said.

Inside his Malibu studio he fashions a new idea into a small clay model. When it is satisfactory, he applies a silicone mold from which he casts a plaster positive. With the small plaster model complete he travels to the legendary marble mountains of Italy, to Pietrasanta and Carrara where stone carving has been practiced for centuries.

Pietrasanta is where Michelangelo lived and worked, the film explains, even supervising the quarrying of his own stone. It is still a mecca for sculptors, home to the “artigiano” or master craftsmen whose highly prized sculpting skills are invaluable to the region and the art.

Searching for the perfect block of marble for his new work, Fillion looks into one of Carrara’s largest quarries, accompanied by a local authority. They explore the tunnels and massive caves that have been carved into the mountain through the centuries, thus revealing some of the methods a sculptor must use to find a good piece of marble.

Historical film clips from the past are injected during this portion of the story as quarrymen explain the labor-intensive hardships and physical dangers of extracting marble back to the days of the Roman Empire. Even though modern machinery efficiently cuts and transports the massive blocks of stone today, it can still be a dangerous business.

Now a master sculptor, Fillion maintains a studio in the south of France as well as on Cross Creek Road in Malibu. He has many patrons in Malibu and throughout the world. One of his most prestigious commissions was of the mythological figure Phaeton and his two horses. It was sculpted from more than 25 tons of white Carrara marble for installation in an estate in Los Angeles.

Minervini was born in Santa Monica and dreamed for years of someday filming in the mountains of Italy, the home country of her parents. She formed Asti-Trevi Productions in 1990.

“Through the Eyes of the Sculptor” was her directorial debut. The film has been shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and on many public television stations.

A preview presentation of the film can be seen on the Web site

The film will screen Saturday, 3 p.m., in the Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium in the Santa Monica Public Main Library at 601 Santa Monica Blvd. Both Fillion and producer Gina Minervini will attend the showing and be available for interviews and discussion afterwards. The event is free and seating is on a first come first basis. More information can be obtained by calling 310.458.8600.