Filmmakers often pull from years of production experience and content development when making a documentary. But what happens when other forms of creativity inform the process? And could other forms of creativity inspire a one-of-a-kind project?
Internationally acclaimed visual artist Anne Goetze was inspired by documentary films at a very early age. Based in Franklin, Anne is an award-winning creator whose exemplary work in painting, photography, and now film has made her a leader in Middle Tennessee’s art scene. She is a member of the Oil Painters of America, the American Impressionist Society, the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, and The Chestnut Group. Her work is part of a growing number of private celebrity collections and permanent public collections alike, including those of the Tennessee State Museum, the Booth Western Art Museum, and several Vanderbilt University collections.
“It’s tough to pick one label, but I would define myself as a generally creative person,” Anne tells FilmNashville Foundation. “For me, filmmaking has become yet another medium I can use to uplift or protect.”
A Family of Artists
Born in Aurora, Illinois, Anne’s family was frequently moving due to the nature of her father’s job as a hospital administrator. “He worked a lot in both Catholic hospitals and the general hospital system,” she says. Her father was a pioneer in adopting photography to troubleshoot numerous problems within a particular hospital system, taking pictures of building layouts, hospital equipment, and personnel. “At that time, that’s when people were starting to visually document things to improve healthcare outcomes. He had a good eye, too!”
Anne’s exposure to photography came at a very early age. “My grandfather Ray Goetze was an advertising and insurance professional who used photography in the ‘30s,” she says. “He used one of those large-format cameras. You handled the negatives, you did your darkroom work and toning… They were just beautiful.”
Both men had a formative effect on Anne’s creativity, with her grandfather’s warm and masterfully composed photographs a ubiquitous site in her home.
“They had to study light. Particularly natural light. All of that beautiful lighting you saw in that era’s movies wasn’t commercially available to them. They had to work with what they had,” she says.
In his spare time, Anne’s father practiced nature photography. Seeing that Anne shared similar interests in creativity and being outdoors, her father bought her first camera and first paint set, teaching her what he knew. Anne loved painting and taking pictures with her father, as well as watching documentaries with him.
“One of my favorite memories is when I would go with him to see nature movies that advocated for land conservation. I loved going to see those!” she says.
Naturally, the creativity wasn’t limited to Anne’s father’s side of the family. Anne’s mother—who would eventually get into film and photography later in life—was an avid gardener who was known for her beautiful placement and landscaping of flora. Several of her mother’s relatives were painters who enjoyed doing landscape and portraiture work in various styles. Being in such a creative family meant being surrounded by an amazing array of paintings and photographs. Among the art were photographs of Anne and her four sisters since her father loved to photograph and film special occasions like the holidays.
“He photographed our entire childhood! Looking back, I’m so grateful to have all those pictures now. They’re a reminder of what my life was like. They also keep me anchored to the past values that made me who I am,” Anne says.
Surrounded by creativity on all sides, Anne was encouraged early on to pursue the arts and find beauty in every moment. And being familiar with both camera and canvas, Anne learned that said beauty could be captured in any number of ways.
“Just like in life, it’s not always obvious when you’re surrounded by blessings. You may have to do a bit of searching for it. But know that there’s always something worth appreciating, or worth capturing in art. Sometimes it’s the peace or humility of your surroundings captured by the natural light. Other times, it’s the majesty of a bird that’s flown into your view,” she says.
A Developing Photographer
When she was in high school, Anne’s family relocated from Atlanta to Memphis. The city’s culture and history were unlike anywhere else that she had ever lived.
“Memphis has always celebrated music. I did a lot of live music photography back then, as well as promotional photos for artists and friends in the area,” she says.
The creativity of Memphis motivated Anne to be the best photographer she could. There, Anne took college art courses and classes offered by seasoned photographers. She took on several apprenticeships with seasoned photographers, with each photographer sharing trade secrets with her. Anne’s mission to learn photography also involved a fair amount of studying what she could on her own, pouring over the works of greats like Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Dorothea Lange. Lange’s documentary work would eventually be a guiding post for Anne’s documentary work.
In 1982, Anne moved to Nashville. Now married, she wanted to make a name for herself as a professional photographer. She would find work as a retouch artist with master portrait photographer Marion Ward. One of Tennessee’s most celebrated lensmen, Ward became a mentor to Anne. She later became his assistant, helping with the studio portrait sittings and photographing weddings.
Since this was before the convenience of photo alteration software, Anne had to handle everything including the negatives and prints. It was intense work, but precisely the kind that Anne needed to sharpen her photography skills.
The retouch work also got her in front of the right people, and Anne was able to build up relationships in the music business. Departing from Ward’s studio, Anne transitioned to Music Row to do retouch work for record labels and art directors.
“Back then, Nashville had a great community of people just trying to make it. It was smaller, and everyone seemed to know everyone,” Anne says.
She became close with several different music artists like Tony Joe White and The Judds. Because these musicians saw Anne as an artist who just so happened to use a camera, they trusted her deeply with how she might craft their public image. These artists would hire Anne for photography sessions, and some of them would later use the photographs as album covers and promotional photos.
“When you get to know these people on a personal level, you’re not really thinking like a photographer. There were plenty of times I was around people like Johnny Cash or Kris Kristofferson at an event. You might talk to them or go just to hang out at their homes, and then kick yourself later that you didn’t bring your camera!” Anne jokes.
It was during this time that the young family moved from Nashville to the countryside outside of Franklin. Anne was serving as an early advocate for Franklin’s visual arts community, which was growing. “I created the first art shows in Leiper’s Fork,” she says. “They began as my solo shows and then I started putting together group art shows.”
Those art shows were historic for the Leiper’s Fork area, demonstrating that it could support such events. Encouraged by the success of these shows, Anne joined forces with two other visual artists to open the area’s first art gallery. “I’ve been part of multiple art galleries in Leiper’s Fork over the years. Now I am happy to work from my home studio and carry work with The Copper Fox Gallery.”
Anne also helped found several different art organizations, including The Chestnut Group in 1999. Working with member artists who paint outdoors specifically for the purpose of land conservation, this nonprofit’s membership started with 12 artists, eventually growing to its current membership of 200.
Anne explains the appeal of associate French Impressionist artists like Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh thusly: “Instead of painting realistically in the studio, the artists within the Impressionist movement broke away to paint outdoors. This made the subjects of their work different and since painting en plein air— their brush strokes were much looser and fluid. Artists relying on outdoor light have only so much time before it changes, allowing more of an emotional response. The approach changed the art world dramatically. Learning about French Impressionism, I was drawn in like a bee to honey.”
The concept of working within the framework of one’s natural surroundings—which Anne describes as “blooming where one’s planted”—is liberating for many artists. It also helps them reconsider the untapped splendor of their location, which otherwise might be taken for granted.
“When you’re doing the work as a painter, you’re not thinking about anything other than the freedom of being outside with nature, your canvas, and your ideas,” Anne says.
Finding Oneself in the Sisterhood
While the progression from still images to motion pictures may seem natural to many, Anne’s journey into filmmaking was unintentional. Being hired to do on-set photography for music video shoots, she knew the power that was held by film and television projects.
In 2001, Anne was a prominent name in the Middle Tennessee art community. Her paintings and photography were drawing serious attention from customers and art galleries.
She was enjoying the success, but Anne found her thoughts drifting to her Aunt Helen. This aunt was on her father’s side of the family, and had become a sister in The Order of the Visitation. Attracted to the contemplative life of prayer and worship, Anne’s aunt had left the United States to join the order’s mother church in Annecy, France, which had practiced the same lifestyle for 400 years.
“Why a woman would give up technology, convenience, and the life she had to take a vow of poverty was something I had to know more about,” Anne says.
Her trips to Annecy were no mere sightseeing tour. They became a mission to explore a hidden culture unspoiled by modernity.
“The way these nuns live is the opposite in contrast to how most of us live today. They live “in the world, but not of the world.” They have no attachment to material things, but instead live as seekers of God, with spirit, purpose, and love. In our complicated culture, we have much to learn from their joy and wisdom.”
By 2008, Anne made a decision to document the way these women were living. By this point, her son Nathan Collie—presently an accomplished nature photographer and author—was able to join in many of the overseas trips, assisting Anne with her work.
“Overall, I probably took about nine trips to Annecy, France over a period of 20 years,” she says. “Each time, I would explore and document through film and still photography.”
By 2015, this collection of works was no long just black and white photography. It had broadened to include color photography and paintings. This would soon become the traveling exhibit entitled “Pray to Love.”
Just like with her depictions of nature, “Pray to Love” is a spiritual odyssey that spotlights the beauty in life. It’s intended for any and all who are searching for peace of mind. Anne says, “Nature does not have a denomination. I don’t believe God looks at us that way either. Art should be the same way… it is for everyone.”
“I feel like it’s an ever-expanding project because there’s always more story to tell,” she jokes. “When looking at the paintings or the photographs, people may zoom in on one particular thing and assume the ‘Pray to Love’ journey to either be about me, or my aunt, or the nuns and the convent, or history, or faith. But actually, it’s about all of those things intermingling.”
To bridge these story elements together, an eleven minute short film was also created for the project. By mixing the elements of text, sound, and images, Anne was able to give viewers a deeper insight into the context.
“It was the ideal format to tell this story,” she says.
Initially made to accompany the “Pray to Love” exhibit, Anne was informed that the film worked as a solo project. On the advice of some friends, the film was submitted to Nashville’s Artlightenment Art and Film Festival, where it won an award. “Pray to Love” has taken on several new lives. As of October 2023, it’s now a coffee table book showcasing Anne’s art with inspirational stories and text written by the Visitation Sisters.
“People aren’t going to church as much as before. It’s sad to see that, as there are so many communal benefits to the concept of a church, it is a place for people to be together and to help one another. They create community and a point for direct contact between people, especially when much of our lives are online now, and we can become isolated” Anne says.
Anne is slowly working on a feature-length documentary. A trailer for the documentary’s rough cut was edited by none other than veteran journalist Demetria Kalodimos. Kalodimos also advised Anne on which storytelling elements might work best for a full film.
“She’s been wonderfully supportive, and believes in this story,” Anne says.
According to Anne, the “Pray to Love” film has received remarkable support. Once initial filming was complete, Anne explored different financing opportunities, including submission of the project to The Holy See. While Anne didn’t get funding from the Vatican, she did get a personal correspondence with The Pope, encouraging her to continue with her project.
“That was wonderful reading that they loved the project, and that they recognized the importance of the women of the Visitation Order.” Anne says. “I also received a handwritten letter from an elderly Roman Cardinal. The letter was thoughtful. It meant a lot to me, especially seeing that through his frail penmanship, he wanted to take his time to tell me the importance of what I was doing. He also sent a personal donation to help complete the film.”
Documenting Nature’s Spirituality
Another one of Anne’s projects is the culmination over the years of filming the natural beauty of Williamson County and other Middle Tennessee areas. Standing against the constant threat of overdevelopment and poor planning, she has remained involved with her community to be a voice for the conservation of the areas natural resources, land, water, and wildlife. It was a five year battle, but she formed a group that worked together to fight off a mass development that would have consumed over 2,000 acres.
“That pristine farmland and open spaces is so necessary for the sustainability and good of the whole as well as our future generations. Activism doesn’t have to be screaming and waving a flag. There are many ways to be an activist… Documentary work is an ideal format to carry messages of importance,” Anne says.
The dangers of climate change put the remaining resources at even further risk. “People come to appreciate their surroundings after learning more about them, From this appreciation, their mindset changes from consumer to conservationist.”
Entitled “The Living Land,” the project pairs documentary footage of Middle Tennessee’s landscapes with interviews of local leaders in nature conservancy. Anne enlisted some illustrious help for this film, which includes “Tennessee’s Wild Side” host Ken Tucker serving as a producer/editor, and International Bluegrass Music Association Executive Director Emeritus Dan Hays consulting for the project. Native American icon Bill Miller provides music and narrative for the documentary. Anne also had the pleasure of collaborating with her son Nathan on this project, incorporating his nature videography into the narrative.
Her plan with this project “The Living Land” is to offer it to various nonprofit organizations for conservation efforts, mental health, education, and other non-commercial causes.
At the time of writing, Anne was working on both docs while planning other projects. “I definitely want to continue making documentaries,” she says.
Anne tells FilmNashville Foundation that her “Down a Country Road” exhibit returns to Columbia’s Theta General Store on Saturday, November 11 for “Down a Country Road V.” Running through Sunday, December 10, this exhibit will feature Anne’s art along with Nathan Collie, Buddy Jackson, Val Adams, John Partipilo, Kimiko Sakai, Karen Brooks, John Fisher, and Kisa Kavass. Initially created during the pandemic as a public art show vehicle, the popularity of “Down A Country Road” ensured that the series would continue long after its first showcase.
“Each version of ‘Down a Country Road’ features the work of some of the best visual artists you’ll see,” Anne says. “‘Down a Country Road V’ will continue this theme, featuring works in various mediums that include metal and stone sculpture, photography, and paintings. I definitely think there’s room for every form of creativity in the area’s art scene. Doing films, I now want to invite members of our production community to get involved with what other visual artists are doing to see if there’s some way we can all collaborate.”
If there’s a lesson to be learned from Anne’s story, it’s that her photography, paintings, and film projects have found their support because she’s not trying to chase after inspiration. Just like with the photographers and painters whose work she studied, Anne’s creativity comes from rooting oneself to their beliefs and blooming where one’s planted.