Photo Caption: A painting of author "Cordwainer Smith" which can be seen at Rowan College of South Jersey's Gloucester campus's Dr. Ross Beitzel Art Gallery in the "Rediscovery: The Lives of Cordwainer Smith" exhibit.
Photo Courtesy: Alex Lattanzi
The Rowan College of South Jersey’s (RCSJ) Gloucester campus art gallery is inviting the public to embark on an amazing odyssey as it presents the documentary premiere of “Rediscovery: The Lives of Cordwainer Smith.” This free event, which takes place on Sept. 29 at 6 p.m. in the College’s Education and Humanities Center, will captivate the audience. An accompanying gallery exhibit, which is also free, is currently on display in the esteemed Dr. Ross Beitzel Art Gallery through Dec. 8.
Cordwainer Smith was the pen name of Paul M.A. Linebarger, a man of many dimensions. Linebarger, who passed away in 1966, lived multiple lives during his lifetime. He was a diplomat, soldier, spy, polyglot, and author. Linebarger’s science fiction stories lead readers on fantastical journeys that transcended the bounds of reality.
The documentary was written, presented, and co-directed by Joel Davidson, assistant director of video production, RCSJ. Davidson, a sci-fi enthusiast who noted Cordwainer Smith as his favorite author, has been working on this project with his friend and co-director Alex Lattanzi for seven years.
“The goal [was] to make something to let people know about Cordwainer Smith’s story, the stories he wrote, and also his life,” Davidson said. “We’re not doing this in any kind of official professional capacity. This is just purely a fan made thing. It’s a labor of love.”
The enigmatic Smith was celebrated for his groundbreaking science fiction narratives, but his true identity remained hidden until after his death. Linebarger’s life story reads like an espionage thriller. He authored the CIA’s manual on psychological warfare, played a pivotal role in saving lives during the Korean War, and offered counsel to multiple presidents.
The art gallery exhibit – which complements the documentary by presenting a multimedia exploration of Linebarger’s life and legacy through paintings, artefacts, and interactive installations – was not part of the original plan.
According to Davidson, the most challenging part about making the documentary was coming up with visuals. Also, because this film was not created to be a “standard documentary where it’s people sitting down doing talking head stuff,” he and Lattanzi came up with an idea to make the film visually appealing.
“Alex is a very talented illustrator, painter, and fine artist. He just finished a graphic novel and he’s an animator too,” Davidson revealed. “Alex, Phillip Stankus and Philip Mastrippolito, who also worked on the project, are all excellent artists. They did all the original artwork for the film. They produced art in a variety of art styles. This included hand-drawn 2D animation with hand-drawn animated sequences.”
“The end result of that was I ended up with all of this artwork,” he continued. Additionally, “To come up with visuals, I had to collect a lot of the magazines and the books that Smith’s stories appeared in. So, I had all these props. I thought, well, we have the movie, but we also have all this beautiful original artwork that these guys did that wouldn’t be seen otherwise. I thought it [made] perfect sense to do an exhibit. I really wanted to show off their work as a way of thanking them for all the work they did.”
Although Davidson – who worked as a production assistant on a Hallmark movie titled “Faith, Love & Chocolate” in 2018 and as a camera assistant for a Chinese TV crew during the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil – could have chosen any number of places to screen the premiere and hold the exhibit, he knows he made the right decision by selecting RCSJ.
“This documentary touches on so many areas including filmmaking and creative writing,” he said. “Smith was a huge influence on Japanese anime. We have a Japanese Anime Club here on campus that’s very active. History, education, and humanities … it touches all these different academic disciplines. So, what better place to premiere than at an institution of higher learning that also has a thriving art gallery space.
“The fact that I’m able to do something I’m passionate about, which is video, to promote an educational institution that I wholeheartedly believe in – is amazing.”
Linebarger’s literature left an indelible mark around the globe and his influence has touched the hearts and minds of authors and science fiction fans worldwide.
When asked what people can expect when they see the documentary and visit the exhibit in the art gallery, “To have their mind expanded by the stories,” Davidson said. “I think they’re going to learn about the human mind and about creativity. And they’re going to learn a lot about what it was like to be a science fiction author in the 1950s and 1960s. I hope they’re going to learn a lot about love and self-sacrifice.”
Registration is available but not required for this event. For more information, please contact Joel Davidson at
or Erika Gardener, Rowan College of South Jersey–Gloucester gallery director at
RCSJ’s Gloucester campus is located on Tanyard Road in Deptford, just off Exit 56 on Route 55. The Dr. Ross Beitzel Art Gallery, located in the Gloucester campus College Center, is open Mon. through Fri., 8 a.m.-9 p.m. For additional information call 856-415-2122.
This program is supported by the Gloucester County Cultural & Heritage Commission, known for its commitment to fostering arts and culture.