Documentary

Section



Documentary History

A Documentary Chronicles the Work of Adolfo Kaminsky, Who Saved Thousands of Lives Forging Documents in the Nazi Resistance

January 10, 2023

Grace Ebert

When Nazi troops invaded France in 1940, the teenage Adolfo Kaminsky became an essential figure of the resistance. His first jobs at a dairy testing lactic acid with blue ink and scrubbing stains at a dry cleaner taught him key skills for altering identification cards, passports, birth certificates, and other papers the Nazis used to arrest Jewish people. He forged countless documents aiding those facing persecution during his lifetime and is thought to have helped save about 10,000 people in World War II alone.

Kaminsky died this week at 97, and a short documentary chronicles his life and critical work. “The Forger” shows him at home in Paris, where he reveals boxes of stamps and documents he created during the war. Black silhouettes by Manual Cinema—read our conversation with the Chicago-based collective for more on the process behind its puppetry—help to share his story, depicting his confrontation with Nazi officers and the time he was tasked with producing 900 birth and baptismal certificates and ration cards in just three days to save 300 Jewish children. “In one hour, I made 30 documents,” he says in the film. “If I slept for one hour, 30 people would die.”

The New York Times released “The Forger” in 2016, and it remains a profound and astounding look at the power of one courageous person. Watch the full documentary above or on YouTube.

 

A still of a silhouette of a boy at a desk

A still of a silhouette of a boy and a building

A still of Adolfo Kaminsky in his home

A still of a silhouette of two people painting

A still of a silhouette of a man standing in archways

 

 

advertisement



Documentary

A Chicago Mother Raises an Abandoned Baby Squirrel in the Heartwarming Documentary ‘My Duduś’

January 6, 2023

Kate Mothes

In the summer of 2020, photographer and director Tom Krawczyk returned home to Chicago from Łódź, Poland, where he was studying film. “When I got there, my mother quietly walked me into a room where she gently pulled a strange, hairless creature out of a shoe box,” he recounts. “It looked as if it had plummeted to earth from another planet.” Meet the star of “My Duduś,” a friendly gray squirrel that tumbled out of its nest when it was only a couple of days old and into the endearing care of the filmmaker’s mother.

Krawczyk’s nine-minute Op-Doc presented by The New York Times chronicles the developing bond between his mother and the young squirrel, which she nurses and shelters in the family’s house at a time when animal shelters were filled to capacity. “My intuition told me to pick up a camera,” he explains. “I knew something special was happening. My mother, a Polish immigrant who had raised me by herself, had been dealing with her newly empty nest after I left for school, and I knew the joy that raising the squirrel would bring her.”

As Duduś grows, so does their emotional connection, but his instincts begin to take hold. He spends more time outside, and the relationship transforms as the young rodent matures. See more of Krawczyk’s work on his website and Instagram.

 

A still from the short film 'My Duduś' featuring a young squirrel raised by a woman in Chicago.

All images © Tom Krawczyk and The New York Times

A still from the short film 'My Duduś' featuring a young squirrel raised by a woman in Chicago.

A still from the short film 'My Duduś' featuring a young squirrel raised by a woman in Chicago.

A still from the short film 'My Duduś' featuring a young squirrel raised by a woman in Chicago.

A still from the short film 'My Duduś' featuring a young squirrel raised by a woman in Chicago.

A still from the short film 'My Duduś' featuring a young squirrel raised by a woman in Chicago.   A still from the short film 'My Duduś' featuring a young squirrel raised by a woman in Chicago.

 

 



Art Documentary

‘China’s Van Goghs’ Documentary Explores the Industrial Scale of Art in the Village that Paints Thousands of Replicas

December 5, 2022

Kate Mothes

In the late 1980s, the village of Dafen in Shenzhen, China—home to a few hundred people—was set on an industrial course that would utterly transform the area. Over the past three decades in what is known as the “world’s art factory,” manufacturers have produced thousands of replicas of well-known paintings by Western masters like Vincent Van Gogh, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Edgar Degas. In a full-length documentary from Perspective, filmmakers render an intimate portrait of life in Dafen.

China’s Van Goghs follows painter Zhao Xiaoyong, along with family and friends, through typical days at work. Immense rolls of canvas are unloaded from a truck, a line of people add details to raw canvases tacked to the wall, and rows of paintings line-dry above their heads.  “We paint, eat, and sleep—all in this studio,” Zhao says, sharing that before he began painting, he had never heard of Van Gogh. Now, he oversees the production of hundreds of paintings each month, for which photographs or small prints are used as references.

 

A still from the film "China's Van Goghs."

Entrepreneurial trade painter Huang Jiang established the village’s art industry in 1989 after moving his business to the mainland hamlet from his native Hong Kong. Dafen is characterized by an an assembly line process that has historically relied on cheap migrant labor, where local workers were trained to paint in oil. As the manufacture of copies of paintings by Western masters expanded, so did the village. Dafen is now home to more than 10,000 residents and has become a cultural center of Shenzhen, but the relationship between yì shù jiā (artists) and huà jiā (painters or art workers) is uniquely nuanced.

Zhao grapples with the difference between the two, and an opportunity to fly to Amsterdam with his family to visit the Van Gogh Museum and meet a long-time client provides many unexpected revelations, including finding his paintings in a tourist stand and learning that the profit margin is around ten times his compensation to make the works. After a trip to Arles, France, to the hospital where Van Gogh was briefly in residence, and his burial site in Auvers-sur-Oise, Zhao returns home and reflects on the visit with mixed emotions. He and his colleagues discuss feeling a connection to Van Gogh and a profound link with the work.

The documentary plumbs universal, provocative questions of originality and significance. Zhao recounts museum staff asking if he made his own work, and he explains “Do you know how much pressure I felt? I was shocked. I don’t even have a single piece of my own. I’ve just been copying, copying… To change from a painter to an artist, to whatever it is, is very difficult.” A friend posits that labels like “artist” and “worker” aren’t useful, and Zhao continues with a question that many creators will find familiar, “Have I become an artist? Do I have anything that deserves appreciation?”

 

A still from the film "China's Van Goghs."

A still from the film "China's Van Goghs."

A still from the film "China's Van Goghs."

A still from the film "China's Van Goghs."

 

 



Documentary Food Science

Wrought: A Mesmerizing Short Film Coaxes the Beneficial and Beautiful Sides of Rot and Decay

October 24, 2022

Grace Ebert

Decay is sometimes an unsightly signal that it’s time for last week’s leftovers to be expeditiously trashed, although not all spoiling leads to the compost bin or garbage. Bubbly juice and veins of mold are responsible for common fare like beer, cheese, kombucha, kimchi, and bread, and although our reactions of disgust tends to mask the more fruitful features of the decomposition process, spoiling can provide health benefits and also be visually stunning—we’re continually fascinated by Kathleen Ryan’s ability to blur the line between the beautiful and grotesque.

In the short film “Wrought,” directors Anna Sigrithur and Joel Penner of Biofilm Productions highlight the intriguing and alluring qualities of mold and rot. From wispy spores sprouting atop a surface to liquifying cabbage to shriveling slices of fruit, the documentary timelapse flashes a variety of substances as they wilt and wither and ultimately questions our perceptions of the natural process.

Watch the trailer for “Wrought” above, and find the 22-minute film on Vimeo.

 

 

 



Art Documentary History

‘Beyond the Visible,’ a Documentary Illuminating the Life and Work of Hilma af Klint, Is Free to Stream

September 21, 2022

Grace Ebert

Released in 2020, an acclaimed documentary serves as a corrective to the art historical record. Beyond the Visible spotlights the life and work of the pioneering Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862–1944), an obscure figure during her lifetime whose colorful abstract works predate those of famed male artists like Vasily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian. Directed by Halina Dyrschka, the feature-length documentary centers on af Klint’s groundbreaking practice and the spiritual, scientific, and natural phenomena that inspired her work.

Beyond the Visible is currently available to stream for free on Kino Lorber’s YouTube, which is a trove of art history and culture. To learn more about af Klint’s legacy and view her expansive oeuvre, pick up The Complete Catalogue Raisonné: Volumes I-VII. (via Open Culture)

 

 

 



Art Documentary

A Powerful Documentary Captures the Life and Work of Artist Yvonne Shortt Who is Legally Blind

September 8, 2022

Grace Ebert

Retinitis pigmentosa is a rare genetic disease that breaks down the retina and causes vision loss as it progresses. Like many with the condition, Yvonne Shortt was diagnosed as a child when she realized that her sight was different from those in her family when they wandered into dark movie theaters or looked at the stars at night, and she struggled to do the same.

Now legally blind as an adult, Shortt cultivates a visual art practice that involves shaping figurative busts from clay, moss, grasses, and other natural materials. “I make a face of a little girl, and I make that face for hours until I feel her breathing. I thought, if I can’t see, will I have that connection with it?” she says of experiencing her vision slowly diminish. “But there’s the tactility, the wetness of the clay, how it dries. I realized that I can still make objects even with my eyes closed.”

Filmmaker James Robinson dives into Shortt’s story in one part of the documentary series Adapt-Ability, produced by The New York Times. The film chronicles how Shortt experienced the progression of the disease and offers a simulation of what the world looks like from her body as she gradually loses clarity and her peripheral vision. Robinson explains:

Unlike the stereotype of the blind living in a lightless world, Ms. Shortt, like most other legally blind people, lives a nuanced existence between those who see well and those who can’t see a thing… She can see some things some of the time, depending on various factors, including the amount of ambient light, her distance from the object and the object’s location in her field of vision.

Although the condition has necessitated life adjustments like the use of a white cane, Shortt has come to understand her limitations as a benefit to her art, her other senses, and her ability to find compassion for those around her. (via Laughing Squid)