The Other Brother – Reviews and Comments
Tommy Hays author of What I Came to Tell You and The Pleasure Was Mine
In “The Other Brother” Kristy Higby has rendered a cinematic miracle, illuminating the extraordinary life of Jessie Flowers — a solitary, mysterious and troubled man who found solace and meaning in little else but his art. When Higby first began this project, Jessie was not much more than a family story, a talented eccentric who spent most of his time holed up in his shack doing his artwork or writing in his journals and who had at one point chased his visiting brother and children away with a loaded shotgun. But after Kristy spent years immersing herself in the thousands of letters, journals and sketchbooks he left behind, and interviewing Jessie’s devoted sisters and his estranged brother Tom Flowers, a successful artist and college professor, another more complex picture of Jessie began to emerge. In “The Other Brother” Higby weaves together interviews with the sisters, who knew Jessie best, with interviews of Tom Flowers, who hadn’t spoken with him since they were young men. The result is a living portrait of a man who has depth and compassion and who wasn’t without a sense of humor and who also was a very good writer. One of the most wonderful aspects of the film is how Higby pairs drawings and sketches by the two brothers. Jessie’s work feels crowded, humorous and primordial while Tom’s feels much more open, airy and contemporary. Yet by pairing the images Higby sets up a kind of artistic dialogue between the brothers that somehow transcends their decades of estrangement. Toward the end of the film, we sense that Tom, looking through family photographs and Jessie’s sketchbooks, gets to know his brother in a way he never knew him in life. And that, of course, is what happens to us as we watch “The Other Brother”. By the end of the film, Higby has woven together so many layers of Jessie’s life in such an artful and profound way that ultimately we feel the man is in the room with us, flesh and blood.
John Link, Visual Artist, Art Educator, Art Critic
(Here is a thought provoking piece of writing by John Link comparing Jesse and Tom’s art).
In addition to the impact of the Side by Side sequence, the “connection” between their art shows up in the shots of Jesse’s photographs beside Tom’s landscape paintings – I would say that comes from their “culture” as raised in a place with access and appreciation for that landscape. After that, it is all about the difference.
Their art, in general, is radically divergent. Jesse is, as is said, a natural. Everything in the external world that he sees and feels is incorporated into his inner fertility. His hand is direct and unrestrained, yet naturally disciplined. His art has a direct line back to the early cave dwellers. The “crowded” characteristic of his surfaces is not really crowded, just insistent richness and an instinct that was unbounded by educated “taste”, only the edge of the envelope or the edge of the paper or the need to insert an address brings it to a conclusion.
I would not say Tom is so much “contemporary” as he is “educated”. U of Iowa shows all over his work. Where Jesse was so dependent on what he felt, Tom depends upon what he learned. Jesse’s work is immediate; Tom’s is mediated by the world of art as understood by urban civilization and passed on through the educational process. Jesse is limited to just what his individuality allows, Tom expands beyond his own take on things. I found myself thinking Tom’s work ultimately might have been diluted by the expansion his education afforded him, but whatever, Tom’s is much broader in range than Jesse’s.
The best urban art usually gets to a higher place than the best primitive art. As a matter of “type”, I generally prefer urban art to primitive art. So Tom chose the mor ambitious path. But it is a treacherous path and no sure thing. In the many direct comparisons the movie presents, my eye consistently went for Jesse’s work over Tom’s.
Leisa Rundquist, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Art History, Department of Art, UNCA
An intimate look into sibling estrangement, The Other Brother considers the significant role of creativity within one’s life by bringing forth the compelling and poignant story of Tom Flowers, Furman University art professor and his older brother, Jesse Flowers, self-taught artist. Beginning with family interviews and recollections, director Kristy Higby slowly builds a complex, conflicted view of a bond shared by two brothers who last saw each other over sixty-five years ago. The documentary is a rare invitation to see numerous artworks by both brothers, side-by-side for the first time, in dialogue with each other. Under Higby’s careful orchestration, Jesse (the deceased sibling) is given a voice, and thus a palpable presence, through the off-camera reading of his introspective and often tender letters written during and after WWII. The Other Brother emphatically intertwines familial love and loss, while also confirming the profound influence that art has on all our lives.
Jim Chressanthis, ASC (NO SUBTITLES NECESSARY: LASZLO & VILMOS)
Tom and Jesse each took a different path in life to get past the harshness of growing up and the distance between them. I feel like I have stepped into their lives in “The Other Brother”. Kristy captures the broken silence between them. The brothers were brought back together through their artwork in this wonderful documentary.
Sage Neri, Visual Designer, Filmmaker
Fantastic premise for an epic movie. This concept is so beautiful especially during this age of increasing fear and separation through the digital realm, etc. Art has saved my life and helped me carry on through this surprisingly intense journey. Thank you for taking the time to create this heart-warming picture within pictures.
A Review by Jim Campbell, Artist
This seventy-two minute documentary by Kristy Higby pries open so many important questions that it is difficult to know where to start. On the surface, the film simply examines the artistic and family lives of two young brothers growing up in WWII-era America who eventually become totally estranged after the older brother, Jesse Flowers comes back from the war.
Tom Flowers, the younger, extroverted brother goes on to become a college athlete and a popular professor of art at Furman University, while Jesse becomes increasingly more isolated and reclusive.
Helping us approach a deeper understanding of this story about a family of American artists are incredible volumes of sketchbooks and other artworks by both brothers, the first-hand interviews with Tom and his sisters, family photographs, video of Jesse and thousands of letters written by Jesse to his sister. All of this is made more remarkable yet by the fact that the filmmaker, Kristy Higby, also a visual artist, is married to Mark Flowers, the painter son of Tom Flowers. Kristy brings an artist’s sensibility to the visual style of the documentary. As the film unfolded, I found myself with renewed interests in a great range of things, including: the nature versus nurture discussion, the effects of war on young men, the difficulties of communicating fully with people we love, the primal role of art-making and the importance of telling our stories. Needless to say, when a mere seventy-two minutes of my time yields that much thought, I do recommend that others try to find the time, too.
Gallery Director Upstairs [Artspace], Tryon, NC
The recent screening of The Other Brother has been, far and above, the highlight of our film series. I was so taken with the evening’s activities. Thanks so much for an interesting, informative and powerful evening of superb filmmaking! Tom Madison, Director.
Wim Roefs, Director, if ART Gallery, Columbia, SC
“The screening of The Other Brother at if ART Gallery in Columbia, S.C., on October 24 surpassed my high expectations. Around 50 people packed the place, sharing fewer than 50 chairs. Standing room only, therefore. The response to this magnificent piece of work was profound with the audience being genuinely moved by the story — a story that presents specifics about two people, artists both, and their family while inevitably touching on larger issues. The audience’s engagement was evident during the Q & A with filmmaker Kristy Higby, producer and other-brother son Mark Flowers, and the latter’s other-brother father Tom Flowers. An exquisite score with surprising music, including original music that most will not have heard before compliments the poignant narratives and interviews, and the passages from letters from the other brother, Jesse. I had been looking forward to screening this film at my gallery and I am so glad I did. It really was a memorable evening.”
Barbara Jackson, Artist
I was deeply moved by the film. Tom was so brave and so open. I am grateful for his truthfulness, sad for his sorrow. And the sisters! Their lifelong struggle to keep their brother alive while trying to respect his aloneness was such a study of traditional women’s roles and of a kind of helpless love. We struggled with my brother’s mental illness and felt those emotions many times.
Of course, what comes through is the impossibility of our reshaping another person’s life. It always comes down to that person’s personal decision. There is a big change in mental health theory, a big push toward patients setting their own goals and measuring their progress themselves, doing their own diagnosis of why they are ill. Better medicines help, but the patient-therapist interaction is so much better, a partnership of equals. Very interesting to see.
Our strange thinking patterns leave us feeling somehow guilty about another person’s misery. Hard to let go that feeling of responsibility, even as we know we are not the cause, nor could we be the remedy. There is no doubt that today’s mental health therapies could have been of help to Jesse, but only the best of that era could have been of any help and no penniless vet could find those few.
I grew up with an alcoholic mother and a father who spent less and less time with the family, unable to cope with his wife’s ways. The grief of Tom’s childhood felt very close.
The urge toward art was so strong! And it has continued to be so strong!
And yet the women led totally different lives. You have to wonder about the difference between a start in DC schools and doing most of your schooling out in rural Virginia. But there is also the difference in family and community expectations for girls. Both the boys were determined to stand out, somehow. Jessie deeply wounded by not achieving what he desired in his young days, then too horrified by the inhumanity of war to wish to connect with people in general. You have to think he was furious that his baby brother could have a career and wife and children, sex, love and recognition while he, Jessie, was imprisoned by his mind and consequent lack of education. Girls pretty early in that generation recognized they were expected to live in a discrete, humble pattern.
Maybe that is why it was so wonderful to see Kristy as the star of the evening. Never any doubt about her art credentials but never before such full recognition, which she accepted with charm and the skill of the best of teachers. The discussion period was as thought provoking as the film.
I would have written sooner, but words have failed me. I took my time with The Other Brother. It is very powerful, dense work, which I thoroughly honored. Thank you for this gift. Really, I lack words. Sharing it, opening it to others must seem an incredibly precious process. Congratulations to both of you and your forebears for what you have created.
National Alliance on Mental Illness South Carolina (NAMI SC)
‘The Other Brother is a wonderful presentation of art, illness and the connectedness that is shared. We were so fortunate to present a view into the life of someone that our members can relate to and experience. Our conference tries to offer a perspective of how widespread and all encompassing illnesses are and how often we overlook the beauty, pain, and successes that are achieved. Thank you so much for sharing this powerful story with our NAMI Conference Attendees.’
Liz Miller, Curator, Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapman Art Museum, Myrtle Beach, SC
“The Other Brother: The Art of Jesse and Tom Flowers is an extraordinary exhibition that will linger in the minds of those people lucky enough to experience it. Both the film and exhibition work together to give the viewer a fascinating look into the lives of Tom and Jesse Flowers, whose artwork forms a significant and tender connection between the two estranged brothers. Kristy Higby and Mark Flowers of Mountain Tea Studios in Asheville, North Carolina, have organized what promises to be a beautiful and intriguing exhibition of carefully selected works of art by the Flowers brothers as seen in the film. Off the screen and on the walls, exhibition visitors will have the unique opportunity to see and study these works in person, which is undoubtedly the best way to get a true sense of the art and all of its subtle nuances. Perhaps new observations will be made and shared, inciting an ongoing dialogue about artistic expression and sibling relationships.”