Documentary

Section



Documentary Photography

Guardians of Paradise: An Intimate Short Film Peers into Life in Burma

July 30, 2021

Grace Ebert

Comprised of footage shot between 2018 and 2020, “Guardians of Paradise” offers an intimate and sensitive glimpse at Burmese life. The short film shows children at play on docks, a fisherman as he pulls in his net, and others as they practice religious rituals in an attentive look at the joyful, trying, and mundane moments.

Directed by Ivan Maria Friedman of the Lausanne, Switzerland-based studio Maya Pictures with music by Max Richter, “Guardian’s of Paradise” is a small window into the Southeast Asian country prior to the February 1 miliary coup, which was prompted by unfounded claims of voter fraud following the election of National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. “In a moment where they need international attention the most, this work wishes to portray the uniqueness of the Burmese culture, as well as to bear witness of their incredible strength, whose true power lies in compassion, gracefulness, true generosity, and human dignity,” Friedman says.

See more candid photos and footage from the filmmaker’s visits on Instagram.

 

 

 



Art Documentary

A Visit to Wangechi Mutu's Nairobi Studio Explores Her Profound Ties to Nature and the Feminine

July 23, 2021

Grace Ebert

Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu made history in 2019 when her four bronze sculptures became the first ever to occupy the niches of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s facade. Stretching nearly seven feet, the seated quartet evokes images of heavily adorned African queens and intervenes in the otherwise homogenous canons of art history held within the institution’s walls.

The monumental figures are one facet of Mutu’s nuanced body of work that broadly challenges colonialist, racist, and sexist ideologies. Now on view at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor is the latest iteration of the artist’s subversive projects: I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?  disperses imposing hybrid creatures in bronze and towering sculptures made of soil, branches, charcoal, cowrie shells, and other organic materials throughout the neoclassical galleries. The figurative works draw a direct connection between the Black female body and ecological devastation as they reject the long-held ideals elevated in the space.

 

No matter the medium, these associations reflect Mutu’s deep respect for and fascination with the ties between nature, the feminine, and African history and culture, a guiding framework that the team at Art21 explores in a recently released documentary. Wangechi Mutu: Between the Earth and the Sky visits the artist’s studio in her hometown of Nairobi and dives into the evolution of her artwork from the smaller collaged paintings that centered her early practice as a university student in New York to her current multi-media projects that have grown in both scope and scale.

Whether a watercolor painting with photographic scraps or one of her mirror-faced figures encircled with fringe, Mutu’s works are founded in an insistence on the value of all life and the ways the earth’s history functions as a source of knowledge, which she explains:

I truly believe that there’s something about taking these bits and pieces of trees, and animals and completely anonymous but extremely identifiable items and placing them somewhere that draws their energy, wherever they were coming from, whatever they did, whatever molten lava they came out of a million years ago, that is now in my work and that little piece of energy is magnified.

Dive further into Mutu’s practice by watching the full documentary above, and see a decades-long archive of her paintings, sculptures, collages, and other works on Artsy and Instagram.

 

 

 



Documentary

Footsteps: How an Isolated Artificial Home in Ontario Produces Sound for Myriad Blockbuster Films

May 21, 2021

Grace Ebert

A modest house nestled into the bucolic countryside of Uxbridge, Ontario, is home to a premier sound facility behind an impressive array of films, TV series, and video games. Brimming with an eclectic collection of objects and antiques, Footsteps Studio has aided in the post-production audio effects for projects like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Big Short, and The Handmaid’s Tale all generated by a small team on the unassuming grounds.

In a short documentary, director Jeremy Benning tours the workspace— each room of the house functions as a recording studio and is insulated by an elaborate outer wall engineered to act as a buffer from outdoor noises—and speaks with three Foley artists responsible for enhancing audio experiences following filming. Benning goes behind the scenes with the company to demonstrate the laborious snd surprising methods used to artificially intensify the sound effects, whether as the clatter of a skateboard, the gnashing of a zombie feast, or the deviously subtle clip-clop of high-heeled shoes.

Watch the full documentary above to see more of the unusual techniques behind some of today’s most iconic productions. (via Short of the Week)

 

 

 



Art Documentary History

A Short Documentary Explores the Life of the 'Artifact Artist' Who's Been Excavating New York City's Trash for Decades

April 19, 2021

Grace Ebert

Jordan in his home

Descending into old privies, scouring landfills, and sneaking onto construction sites in the middle of the night are habitual activities for urban archaeologist Scott Jordan. For nearly five decades, he’s been excavating the trash and forgotten artifacts buried deep underneath New York City’s residential areas and fast-growing developments. His findings are diverse and revealing of the area’s past, offering a glimpse into the consumption habits and lifestyles of previous generations that date back to the 18th Century.

A new documentary produced by Kaleidoscope Pictures chronicles Jordan’s lifelong practice that involves digging and uncovering items that he then transforms into new artworks. Dubbed “The Artifact Artist,” the short film by the same name follows the archaeologist and historian as he pulls glass bottles, Civil War-era garments, and small toys from the earth. While Jordan cleans and restores much of the pottery and well-preserved items, he utilizes the rest to create jewelry and assembled, sculptural works that nestle into shadowboxes, which he then sells at flea markets.

Watch the full documentary below, and find more information on Jordan’s site, Things Found NYC, which he runs with Belle Costes. Shop the pair’s findings on Etsy. (via Kottke)

 

Jordan digging in New York City

Jordan in his home

A collection of Jordan’s artworks made from items he found

Jordan in his home

Items in Jordan’s collection

 

 



Documentary Science

Chasing Ghosts: A Short Documentary Debunks a Long-Held Theory About What Pollinates the Ghost Orchid

April 5, 2021

Grace Ebert

What insect has the ability to extend down into the nearly foot-long nectar tube of the ghost orchid? For generations, that question has interested researchers who’ve speculated that the giant sphinx moth, which has a proboscis that often exceeds 10 inches, was one of few species with a tubular tongue that could reach the sticky pollen nestled inside the endangered flower.

Shot during the course of three years, a short documentary by Grizzly Creek Films follows researchers committed to proving this hypothesis. It draws on Charles Darwin’s 160-year-old studies about orchids’ evolution, particularly in relation to one species in Madagascar about which he famously said, “Good heavens. What insect could suck it?” In  “Chasing Ghosts,” the team wades into the buggy swamplands of south Florida alongside snakes and alligators to reach a grove of cypress trees, where the white flowers wrap themselves high among the boughs. There they installed cameras to capture the first-ever photograph of the giant sphinx moth probing the ghost orchid.

In total, the mission logged 6,800 camera hours and 52,173 images taken in both Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Fakahatchee Strand and recorded five species capable of pollinating the delicate plant. Surprisingly, the same event that they sought to capture—the giant sphinx moth with its proboscis reaching into the elusive flower—actually debunked researchers’ long-held hypothesis and set them on a new course of study to determine how this plant continues to reproduce.

Watch the full documentary above, and find more of the Montana-based studio’s adventures into Yellowstone and the rugged landscapes of the southern United States on the Grizzly Creek Films’ site and Vimeo. You also can follow its discoveries on Instagram.

 

A giant sphinx moth near a ghost orchid

Peter Houlihan holding the giant sphinx moth

 

 



Art Documentary History

'Black Art: In the Absence of Light,' a New Documentary, Celebrates the Rich Legacy of Black Art

February 17, 2021

Grace Ebert

“I saw the need to build cultural awareness by helping to revise and redefine American art,” says the renowned professor, artist, and curator David Driskell in Black Art: In the Absence of Light. His words echo throughout the new HBO documentary—which was directed by Sam Pollard, with executive producers Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Jacqueline Glover—that uncovers the rich and underappreciated lineage of Black art.

Structured chronologically, the feature-length film was released earlier this month and stems from Driskell’s revolutionary exhibition Two Centuries of Black American Art, which opened in 1979 at LACMA and surveyed more than 200 works dating back to 1750 from 63 artists. The formative show went on to major museums in Dallas, Atlanta, and Brooklyn, breaking attendance records despite its unenthusiastic response from some critics and institutions, including two in Chicago and Detroit that rejected its visit entirely.

 

David Driskell in his studio

Two Centuries of Black American Art, though, had a widespread and profound impact, which the documentary explores through interviews with artists working today. Many conversations begin with Driskell, who died last April from the coronavirus before Black Art‘s release. The film probes a vast archive from Chicago artists like Kerry James Marshall (previously) and Theaster Gates (previously), alongside Amy Sherald (previously), Kehinde Wiley (previously), and Jordan Casteel, among others.

Through a multi-generational lens, the documentary examines the nuanced effects of these figures’ contributions to the broader field of contemporary American art as it shares footage of their practices and reactions to their works. For example, Fred Wilson unveils what’s hidden within museum collections, while Wiley and Sherald both comment on the profound experience of painting the Obamas’ official portraits. Additional insights from Studio Museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden, who also is a consulting producer, are woven throughout the film.

 

Amy Sherald working on Michelle Obama’s portrait

Beyond galleries and museums, much of Black Art centers on the value of representation and unearthing a narrative that’s been obscured or outright dismissed. In particular, it considers the role of collectives like Sprial, which was founded in 1963 by Romare Bearden and Norman Lewis in order to highlight the work generated by Black artists in the Civil Rights Movement. While Sprial drew attention to otherwise ignored projects, it was largely dominated by men, a problem Faith Ringgold speaks to as she describes being rejected from the group. Sprial only admitted one woman, Emma Amos.

The final segment focuses on the importance of collectors investing in Black artists, in addition to the long history of spaces like Studio Museum and historically Black colleges and universities. These institutions continue to foster communities that honor the legacy of those who’ve come before while backing those forging new ground, prompting questions like this one from Theaster Gates: “We are part of a continued renaissance—it’s been happening. What I’m most excited about is, do we have the capacity to be great makers in the absence of light?”

Black Art is streaming on HBO Max through March 17. Educators also can download a coinciding curriculum with research tools and discussion prompts, in addition to another filled with activities designed to spur creativity.

 

Kerry James Marshall in his studio

 

 

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Sailing Ship Kite