An Interview with Vince Clemente and Adam Cornelius on THE PALINDROMISTS

Vince Clemente is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose first film, The World of Z, took the audience on a powerful four-year journey into the eccentric life of manic-depressive outsider artist known simply as Z. The film went on to win awards and play at several festivals.

Adam Cornelius has been making films full-time since 2007. His first feature documentary, People Who Do Noise, played at festivals, museums, and galleries all over the world and is largely considered the foremost documentary on the topic.

Clemente and Cornelius co-produced the documentary, Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters, which won the audience award at the Austin Film Festival and premiered at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, the largest of its kind. They are currently completing a documentary called The Palindromists.

You can check out the trailer here.

Ed Battistella: Tell us about your documentary project, The Palindromists.

Vince Clemente and Adam Cornelius: This documentary delves into the never-before-told history of palindromes, from the words of gods, to witchcraft, and all the way up to a secret palindrome competition held between the Enigma codebreakers at Bletchley Park during WWII. And of course it mainly follows the greatest Palindromists as they prepare for the World Palindrome Championship held by Will Shortz.

Ed Battistella: How did you get interested in palindromes?

Vince Clemente and Adam Cornelius: Palindromes have always been cool to me. It wasn’t until I had a chance meeting with 2012 champ Mark Saltveit that I discovered you could actually write your own and even compete in a world championship. I became extremely curious about the topic and shortly after we started working on the documentary.

Ed Battistella:
What is the World Palindrome contest?

Vince Clemente and Adam Cornelius: The World Palindrome Championship is run by none other than Will Shortz. Will invites all the top palindromists from around the world and he gives them various prompts or constraints from which they have to write a brand new palindrome within a certain time limit. Prompts like; all words have to have at least 4 letters, use the letter X and Z, or the palindrome has to be in the form of a haiku. The palindromes are then read to an audience of nearly 600 people and the winner is decided by audience vote.

Ed Battistella: Are there criteria for a good, or winning palindrome?

Vince Clemente and Adam Cornelius: Hmm. That’s a tough one. Every palindromist has his or her own style. Some like long ones, some like poetic ones, some like short ones. For a crowd vote, I’d try my best to write palindromes that were short and punchy or palindromes that use big words while still making sense. The goal in writing a palindrome is not only that it obviously be a palindrome, but also that it be written in a way that makes perfect sense, uses correct grammar, and could possibly pass for a normal phrase or sentence used in conversation.

Ed Battistella: Your documentary features some interesting folks, including Will Shortz, Weird Al Yankovic, and Danica McKellar. Do palindromes attract a certain types of individual?

Vince Clemente and Adam Cornelius: In the filming process we noticed most of the palindromists love some kind of math or computing. I feel it’s really just people that are curious about language and love puzzles. What’s great about palindromes is that they fall somewhere between a discovery and a creation, in that in some way they seem to be already there within our language waiting to be discovered, but still represent an original creation, just like any work of art.

Ed Battistella: Do you have some favorites? I’ve always liked guru rug, but there is a nearby town called Yreka which was rumored to have a Yreka Bakery, which I thought was fascinating.

Vince Clemente and Adam Cornelius: I heard the Yreka Bakery was closed and trying to sell the rights for some crazy amount, like 500k. Which has to be a reasonable price, right? A lot of my favorites are Jon Agee’s: “Mr Owl ate my metal worm,” “Go hang a salami I’m a lasagna hog,” “Dr. Awkward,” and “Mr. Alarm.” Recently I came across “Too bad I hid a boot,” which gave me a chuckle. For me it’s all about the quick fun ones that conjure up some kind of ridiculous image in your head.

Ed Battistella:
Can you give us a few more details about the release of the documentary?

Vince Clemente and Adam Cornelius: Our hope is to get the film done by the end of the year and run it through the festival circuit. Then of course phase two will be to win the Academy Award for best documentary!

Ed Battistella: Don’t forget we have a great film festival here in Ashland, so maybe we’ll see The Palindromists locally.

Vince Clemente and Adam Cornelius: That would be amazing. I really just want everyone to see it. We basically spend the time to become experts on a subject so that everyone else can get the big picture in just the time it takes to watch the movie. Hopefully it will inspire a new appreciation for palindromes and expand the hobby beyond our tiny circle of experts.

Ed Battistella: Is there a thank you palindrome? In any case, thanks for talking with us!

Vince Clemente and Adam Cornelius: Our IndieGogo campaign is currently offering a Thank “ewe” perk. Unfortunately palindromes don’t always cooperate! Thanks again for featuring us. Don’t forget to visit to stay up-to-date on the film’s release, and in the meantime, you can pre-order the DVD, Poster and more through our Indiegogo crowdfund campaign.

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels was released by Oxford University Press in March of 2020.
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