How to Make a Pearl

  • Jason Hanasik
  • United States, United Kingdom
  • 2017
  • 22 min
  • International Premiere
  • IDFA Competition for Short Documentary

Because of his allergy to light, John Kapellas has spent the past 10 years living in darkness. In the seclusion of his home, he has found a creative outlet: with a flashlight on his baseball cap, he covers the walls with meticulous drawings of circular patterns.

In voice-over, he talks about his turbulent past, which took him from family life to service in Vietnam and immersion in San Francisco's gay scene. Sun-drenched home videos poignantly capture the carefree times that were to end with the coming of AIDS. Kapellas talks about the friends he lost to the virus, and how cruelly the outside world sometimes reacted. The curious setting in the darkened room with its hallucinogenic drawings and the painfully contrasting archive footage produce a poetic portrayal of his inner life.

Kapellas compares his repetitive drawing in the dark with the approach of an oyster, which eases the irritation of a chafing grain of sand by gradually building up a layer of pearl, until the pain is gone.


  • 22 min
  • color
  • DCP
  • Spoken languages: English
  • Subtitles in: English
Jason Hanasik
Jason Hanasik
Executive producer
Minette Nelson, Charlie Phillips for The Guardian
Jason Hanasik
Jason Hanasik

IDFA history

International Premiere
IDFA Competition for Short Documentary

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IDFA history

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