Born in the face of obstacles that would bring a normal person to the point of giving up, Lee Tisdale, known affectionately as Mott-ly to friends, was not one to go peacefully to his grave without a fight. As an artist and activist afflicted by hemophilia, HIV and also living as an amputee, Mott-ly was somehow able to survive with a vigor that would put the most people to shame.
Mott-ly, who was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, was an artist, but also an avid publisher of punk zines, curator of shows and a frontman in various bands in Kansas City, in addition to being a local radio personality. His art, Gina Kauffman wrote, "paid homage to the small, the discarded, the broken and the backward." His various occupations became part of the local legends surrounding him, but it was his profound and direct impact on those around him that proved to be his greatest legacy after he passed away in 2007.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article read "cease" instead of "seize."
HP: What made you decide to take on this project?
CS: Well, I had actually wanted to start it a couple of years before Mott-ly passed. I asked him about it and he seemed both excited at the idea and a little intimidated. He finally agreed and then he almost immediately became impossible to reach. After months of struggling to just do the most fundamental things, I decided that it wasn't a good time to do it and put it on the back burner. And then, I got a call telling me that he had died. I started filming at his memorial a couple of days later.
HP: So you had always intended to make the film, but the exact moment was almost like fate?
CS: It would seem so. He had been really depressed the last few years of his life and I think he was a little ashamed of what his life had become because of his deteriorating health and how little it allowed him to attend to his well-being.
HP: What type of guy was Mott-ly? Was he a quintessentially Midwestern guy? If so, what does this mean?
CS: He was an extremely gentle and empathetic person. He was also very polite and even prudish in his own way. So, if these define Midwestern values, I suppose he was. But he was also very well-versed in expressing his pain and frustrations (and closeness to death) through his art. He had a lot of time to develop that skill by being so physically limited as he was growing up and during his many hospital stays (the longest being a year).
HP: What do you want audiences to take away from the film?
CS: That we really are stronger than we think we might be. That we really need to seize the day. That even difficult circumstances can be fertile ground for bettering one's self. That our actions and words have a lingering effect. And, of course, that Mott-ly was a remarkable and complex person.