A century ago, Nikola Tesla dreamed of sending free wireless energy from a mysterious tower and lab called Wardenclyffe. Deteriorating for decades, the remains of his great work were almost lost forever. Until a grateful world united to save it.
TOWER TO THE PEOPLE tells how Tesla’s perpetual struggles against the day’s corporate titans were ultimately vindicated generations later- using technology the visionary himself helped develop. Experience the mystifying past, inspirational present and exciting future of Tesla’s most ambitious experiment for humanity… at a lab called Wardenclyffe.
Joseph Sikorski director of TOWER TO THE PEOPLE is an award-winning writer/director/producer whose independent works have been screened in festivals all around the world. His writing / directing credits include the low-budget cult independent features “ARBOR DAY” and “THE RETURN OF THE KING?”. He also co-wrote, directed and produced the off-Broadway production “TOWER OF BABBLE” which had an extended run in NYC’s West Village. Joseph also produced, directed and edited the first season of the weekly television series SUBURBAN ADVENTURES for the Sportsman Channel. His project, “FRAGMENTS FROM OLYMPUS” became a quarter finalist in “The American Screenwriting Competition” and afterwards was chosen “BEST SCREENPLAY” at the 2010 Long Island International Film Festival. Sikorski then created a teaser for the screenplay featuring veteran character actor LEO ROSSI (Analyze This, The Accused), which despite its micro-budget, became a Semi-Finalist in the “2011 INTERNATIONAL MOVIE TRAILER FESTIVAL”, where it competed with finished million-dollar productions. Over the past two decades, Joseph’s work has been consistently covered by all platforms of media, from print to web, to radio and television- both nationally, and worldwide. He has been featured on CNN’s Showbiz This Week, Producer Magazine, The New York Times, Newsday, on the cover of Vesti and even Russia’s biggest paper PRAVDA to just name a few.
Sikorski recently made news when he used all of his film’s seed money to make a $33,333 donation that put the Oatmeal’s Tesla Museum crowd-funding campaign past its goal. The donation freed up a state-matching grant that allowed the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe (a local non-profit organization) to purchase the laboratory site for a museum. Sikorski’s latest project is a documentary about Nikola Tesla’s time at Wardenclyffe called “TOWER TO THE PEOPLE-Tesla’s Dream at Wardenclyffe Continues” which also chronicles the efforts to save the historic site.
Bijan Tehrani: What motivated you to make TOWER TO THE PEOPLE?
Joseph Sikorski: It’s been a 15 year journey researching Nikola Tesla, as well as being an activist for the preservation of his legacy and last lab site called Wardenclyffe. Throughout most of it, it seemed to be a very depressing, hopeless time as we tried to awaken people to acknowledge the importance of this site where Tesla hoped to send free wireless energy from. It needed to stand as a tribute to Tesla, and a warning to what greed can destroy. However most of the people in positions to help were disinterested and it seemed that the tragedy of Wardenclyffe would repeat itself. The property came scarily close to being bulldozed. But in a sort of poetic justice, the global community Tesla tried to reach through his tower, generations later would rally together through a historic crowdfunding effort and raise the money to save the site. They would use technology Tesla himself helped pioneer and unite as one world to save his legacy. The whole world coming together to correct a historical injustice from the past had turned a tragedy into an inspirational event. This seemed like an important phenomenon to document, and to provide hope when the world looks bleak. People too often feel alone, isolated and powerless, but events like this bring them together and create a synergy that can accomplish wonderful things.
BT: There are so many people from different generations that have no idea who Nikola Tesla was (and you show this in your film) and what was his ideas. Do you think knowing him will help young people to have more humanistic goals in their lives?
JS: I do believe that Tesla is an inspirational force for not only his genius, but for his altruistic goals. He really didn’t care if he was paid by money, or by progress. Examples like Tesla are virtually non-existent and it is my hope that young people will try to emulate this heroism. But for this to happen, the stigma that has marginalized Tesla for so many years must be removed, and I hope projects like this will help to that end. Young people will be burdened with finding the solutions for the challenges we left them with, and I hope they will look to those like Tesla instead of the cultural icons of the day.
BT: How did you pick the people you have interviewed in TOWER TO THE PEOPLE?
JS: Many of the people are well-known, respected voices in the Tesla community, which includes biographers, scientists, community members and relatives of the actual historic figures, most of whom have been advocating for Tesla’s greater acceptance for decades. It was also important to include more recent voices, like the Oatmeal’s Matthew Inman, who was the person most responsible for saving the lab by creating the crowdfunding campaign and adapting current technology to link thousands and thousands of separate Tesla/science enthusiasts together. Author and Peabody Award-winner Jack Hitt we thought could put everything into a unique historical/cultural perspective. And we were fortunate to receive a more skeptical voice in celebrity illusionist Penn Jillette, who provided a better context of the way Tesla is mostly perceived throughout society.
BT: How did you go about researching about Nikola Tesla and his life?
JS: It was an arduous task, because there was so much misinformation, and parsing through what had been erroneously reported in one newspaper at the time and reprinted everywhere as fact for years and years after was a tedious process. Comparing newspaper accounts with Tesla’s own words and writings along with other historic records helped us understand the narrative and timeline more clearly. Combining these elements with writings from Tesla’s assistant George Scherff and letters from others in the period helped bring the picture into better focus. We found great supplemental sources in the Smithsonian and Tesla Museum in Belgrade. We were very fortunate to receive the cooperation of the Tesla Museum in Belgrade, who not only provided us with information, but also with rare photos and blueprints of the lab and tower. We had architects and engineers analyze the drawings, contacted some of the parts manufacturers and were able to reconstruct the most accurate rendition of the tower to date. It’s funny because a large percentage of the research ends up not making it into the film. One example was that we had a report that Marconi visited Tesla at Wardenclyffe, which would have been significant since it was at a time when they would have been suing each other in court. We spent weeks and weeks trying to verify the info with a second source. We found a photo at Wardenclyffe with a car parked in front of the Tower that resembled Marconi’s. We spoke with antique care experts and went through the archives of Marconi and the Vanderbilts (who were early auto enthusiasts) trying to see if the car belong to Marconi. In the end it didn’t, so all the time invested was not ultimately utilized. But this is the nature of getting to the truth, and is just part of the grueling process.
BT: Did you had a written script before you start shooting TOWER TO THE PEOPLE or it was mostly shaped during the editing stage?
JS: Co-author Michael Calomino and I had an outline covering all the historic events leading up to Tesla’s time at Wardenclyffe, the destruction of the tower and all the efforts to save the property afterwards. The script was written after the outline-based edit to connect the segments into a logical continuity. We were trying to achieve much with the film from a historical, scientific and community perspective, so the structure allowed us some flexibility to concentrate on the important areas.
BT: I think our world today needs visionaries like Tesla that thinks about masses and not those on Wall Street, someone that helps our troubled planet, that’s what I thought after watching your film. Did you try to convey this intentionally?
JS: That is a really astute observation. This is part of the subtext of the film, and we wanted it conveyed without totally alienating some of those Wall Street types from donating to the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe. The last part of the film is a call-to-action for the corporate world to step up and help make amends by supporting Tesla’s legacy and specifically, Wardenclyffe, the ultimate symbol of unity for the world. We featured some of the large contributors in the film in hopes it would encourage others. People like the Tally’s, who run a small hotel in Colorado, or Dusan Stojanovic who is an individual angel investor, stepped up when the big corporations, or well-known foundations didn’t. It was citizen enthusiasts of Tesla and science that united to raise the funds to save a precious piece of history.
BT: How did you go about picking visual style of your film?
JS: We endeavored to broaden the appeal of Nikola Tesla to younger people. We tried to use a quicker pacing and more graphics than a typical documentary to help educate, while hopefully keeping their attention through the long narrative. We tried to create an almost surreal look to the ancillary material to build a world moving through a balance of wizardry and science with some easy-to-understand visuals to simplify some of the more difficult scientific concepts.
BT: What is your next project?
JS: Since we have been long-time Tesla activists, we hope to re-constitute the funding for a narrative feature about Nikola Tesla called “Fragments from Olympus”, which actually played a part in the Wardenclyffe saga and documentary’s story line. We’re also exploring the possibility of creating another documentary about Tesla’s contemporary radio competitors on Long Island. It turns out Long Island, New York was a pivotal location in radio’s early history.
The film is playing until Thursday, October 29th at the Crest Theater on Westwood Boulevard in Los Angeles: