Creative Voices

The Utopian Cinema of Sam Green

By Dan Cowles

Documentary filmmaker Sam Green is a haunter of archives and a lover of ephemera. Like an anthropologist exhuming the bones and broken plates of lost cultures, Green discovers his movies through research, digging through boxes and combing through drawers to better understand his culture.

Posters for some of Green’s early films—his subjects included Esperanto, an eccentric football fanatic, and the Weather Underground.

Green’s early films often focused on low-level and transient cultural icons, ubiquitous in their day but virtually forgotten later. Short films like The Rainbow Man/John 3:16, about a wig-wearing NFL fanatic, and Lot 63, Grave C, about Altamont Speedway Free Festival stabbing victim Meredith Hunter, are representative of his early work. His 2002 documentary, The Weather Underground, about the short-lived early ’70s militant radical group, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

A Thousand Thoughts is one of Green’s newest projects—a “live documentary” that chronologically tells the story of the Kronos Quartet’s groundbreaking multi-decade career. 

After the success of Weather Underground, Green—maybe somewhat counterintuitively—moved into a new form of storytelling: live documentaries. Through movies like Utopia in Four Movements and The Measure of All Things, he has developed a singular style, combining well-crafted Keynote presentations and a deadpan delivery with lovely musical accompaniment from bands like Yo La Tengo and yMusic. He continues down that path with his most recent project, A Thousand Thoughts, a live cinematic collaboration with the Kronos Quartet.

Green is fascinated by lofty ambitions and grand ideas, even if those ideas are sometimes delusional. His subjects include the constructed language Esperanto, the futurist and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller, and holders of Guinness World Records. He’s attracted to utopian endeavors and noble follies, but always as someone aware that building the perfect world is not possible—or perhaps even desirable.

Hear from Sam Green yourself, in this video profile by Electric Park Films.

film by


Christian Bruno

Kurt Keppeler

Natalija Vekic

Executive Producer:

Dan Cowles


String Quartet No. 2 (Company) Movement II

Composed by Philip Glass

Performed by Kronos Quartet

The Wheel

Composed by Terry Riley

Performed by Kronos Quartet

Black Angels

Composed by George Crumb

Performed by Kronos Quartet

Silk and Bamboo

Composed by Wu Man

Performed by Kronos Quartet

Chapel Rainbows

Composed by Aleksandra Vrebalov

Performed by Kronos Quartet


Composed by Ryan Brown

Performed by Kronos Quartet


Rain Drops

By Greg Conway


By Say Vandelay

John, It’s Only Dripping

 By Rob Christiansen


Sam Green, Cat Galasso, Janet Cowperthwaite, Joe Bini, Jeremy Stevermer, Julie Stallone and SFFILM, Castro Theatre, Abigail Severence, Misha Scott, Kyle Stephen, Chris Russo, Marie-Helene Carlton, Micah Garen, Katrina Dodson, Kim Frazar, Ariella Ben-Dov, Rebecca McBride, Jingle Punks, Bunny the Dog