Creativity is nebulous; what inspires and motivates us often varies maddeningly from one artist to another, making it near impossible to form a general hypothesis on how people create. And yet, certain motifs and a collective camaraderie emerges in FROM NOTHING, SOMETHING, a documentary in which director Tim Cawley (a Chlotrudis Short Film Festival alum) interviews over a dozen people, asking each what inspires them, how they generate ideas and how they transform them into art. The subjects range from people traditionally thought of as artists (novelist Tom Perrotta, musician Sara Quin (of Tegan and Sara), creature designer Neville Page (pictured above)) to others whose professions fall outside those strictures but to whom the creative process is just as essential—people like chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, architect Preston Scott Cohen and MIT cancer researchers Moungi Bawendi and W. David Lee.

Although some interviewees entertain more naturally than others (comedian Maria Bamford shows she’s at ease fielding questions from one person as she is performing onstage for thousands), Cawley obtains engaging and insightful commentary from the entire cast. It also helps that he has made a talking-heads film that transcends the label—it’s quick-paced, gorgeously shot and well structured, divided into sections each headed by a different animated version of the Frankenstein story, itself an iconic tale of creativity. With so many subjects, a mass of ideas and theories emerge but the personal narratives that materialize prevent the film from becoming too dry or muddled. One leaves the film not only with more ideas as to how the creative process works but elated and inspired by many examples of it in full bloom.  Grade: A-

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