Sophie Kipner was working as a bartender in London when she first met Baron Wolman. Kipner, an artist and writer, made Wolman a gin and tonic. As the two began chatting, Kipner learned exactly who her customer was: Rolling Stone‘s first chief photographer, who captured Sixties icons like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, and documented Woodstock in 1969. “I couldn’t believe he was the guy who took all these photos that I’ve been drooling over for so long,” she says.
Kipner was working on a novel at the time, and began blind contour drawing to help with her writer’s block — a technique she learned in art school that involves creating without looking at the paper. It soon became her full-time job, and she moved back to the United States. She sent Wolman a copy of her finished book, 2017’s The Optimist, and proposed they collaborate. “I reached out thinking, ‘What can you lose?’” Kipner says. “He wrote back and he said, ‘I read your book and you’re nuts. Let’s do it!’”
The new short film Sophie and the Baron examines the duo’s friendship and collaboration. It shows Kipner crafting a blind contour of Wolman’s shot of a Woodstock crowd from start to finish, culminating in a gallery exhibit at Hotel Figueroa in Los Angeles. The film was shot over three years, as they traveled to each other’s homes in L.A. and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“For every opportunity that comes your way, you need to say yes,” Wolman says in the film. “Because if you say no, you don’t know what you’re saying no to. You might be saying no to the best opportunity you ever had … there’s so much out there, you’re going to be on a magic carpet ride if you’re lucky — and that’s the way I looked at my whole career.”
Sophie and the Baron was directed by Alexandria Jackson, Kipner’s cousin. “This film wouldn’t be what it was in any way without Alex being the one who filmed it,” Kipner says. “Because I felt so comfortable, she was able to really get the true essence of me and Baron.” Adds Jackson: “They were very much both their sparkly selves. They so loved each other, and you can just see it in their dynamic.”
The film was composed by singer-songwriter Joel Taylor, and features Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” and the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Jackson was able to clear the Stones song through her stepdad, producer and engineer Bob Clearmountain. “Mick’s a great human and family friend,” she says. “He’s like, ‘Sure, I’ll try to help you out.’ Obviously he doesn’t own it, so he had to then write to the publisher and get it. I feel like there’s been a lot of luck with this film.”
In March 2020, four months before the film was completed, Wolman revealed that he had been diagnosed with ALS, and that it was progressing quickly. He soon lost the ability to speak. “ALS is the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen,” Jackson says. “He was extremely communicative on text and email, and we’d speak almost every day.”
Wolman had seen nearly every cut of the film, and would get emotional while watching the closing scene, where he and Kipner walk down the gallery hallway in a tight embrace. “I really do see it as Sophie walking him off to heaven,” Jackson says. “He told me several times that he considers the film the bookend to his life as a photographer and friend. It just really breaks my heart and makes me really just filled with gratitude for having known him and captured him.”
Sophie and the Baron is dedicated to Wolman, who died on November 2nd at the age of 83. The film premiered at SXSW on March 16th. “People have been really loving the story and the art and their relationship,” Jackson says. “We’re in such a bleak, horrific time in so many ways, that I think people like disappearing into a fun, little magical friendship for half an hour.”