A Life’s Work

2023 Update: Now available to stream on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Kanopy and other streaming services!

What’s it like to dedicate your life to work that won’t be completed in your lifetime?

More than fifteen years ago, filmmaker David Licata focused on four projects and the people behind them in an effort to answer this universal question. The subjects are: Jill Tarter, astronomer and Director of the SETI Institute, who has been involved in the scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence since the 1970s and who was the basis for the Ellie Arroway character in Carl Sagan’s science fiction novel, Contact; David and Jared Milarch, father and son tree farmers and co-founders of the Champion Tree Project (recently renamed Archangel Ancient Tree Archive), who clone old-growth trees to combat climate change; gospel music archivist Robert Darden, a journalism professor at Baylor University who founded the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, an organization that is trying to identify, preserve, digitize, and catalog all of the most at-risk recordings from the black gospel music tradition; Paolo Soleri, the recently deceased and controversial architect behind Arcosanti, a town designed to test his theories about housing an overpopulated planet while also preserving, and nurturing, the natural environment; and Jeff Stein, AIA, Soleri’s mentee at Arcosanti in the 70s and his successor after his death. Fittingly, the film begins with Soleri and ends with Stein ruminating about the passing of his mentor and what it means to carry on a legacy.

We discover what inspired them to begin, what obstacles they face, what drives and sustains them, how they measure success of an endeavor they will not live to see completed. But most of all we discover that their lives really aren’t that different from everyone else’s: who hasn’t gazed at the stars and wondered if we are unique, nurtured botanicals, sought ideal shelter, fell in love with a song and exposed someone to it? And who among us will truly see our work finished before we leave this mortal coil?