Documentaries on visual artists: Chaorismatic-David Altmejd, Sculptor; Eric Fischl: The Process of Painting; Mark Lombardi: Death Defying Acts of Art and Conspiracy; Somewhere to Disappear (photographer Alec Soth); Black Drop (Simon Starling); Picasso in Palestine—and to be noted, but not reviewed Herb and Dorothy 50X50
Reel Artists Film Festival (RAFF) is that rara avis: an event that is unique. Curator and organizer Ann Webb doesn’t fit the description of the standard film programmer. Although certainly fascinated by film, Webb is truly an art connoisseur whose “day jobs” are being the Executive Director of the Canadian Art Foundation and the publisher of Canadian Art magazine. Understandably, her first interest in programming the festival is in presenting art and artists. Cinema is on her mind as she programmes RAFF but film is used here less as a stand-alone entity and more as a conveyor of knowledge and appreciation of exciting contemporary art.
That makes RAFF different from any other film festival in the city. Festival programmers for Images or Reel Asian or Hot Docs think about the filmwork first when adding a selection to their events. One suspects that Webb weighs the originality of any film submitted to the festival against the relative importance of the artist being documented—and then often goes for content rather than form. That’s not always the case, of course, but it often happens that films shown at RAFF are more interesting for what they show than how they show it.
What’s fascinating to recognise and appreciate is that Webb has a marvelous understanding of her audience. RAFF is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year at the tony and quite appropriate TIFF Bell Lightbox building in downtown Toronto. Appreciators of contemporary art come out in droves to see enlightening works on important painters, sculptors, photographers and other forms of visual art. Even if the film isn’t artistically exciting—surely the case with the Eric Fischl, Mark Lombardi and David Altmejd docs—the work of the various artists is noteworthy and makes for appropriate programming at RAFF.
Some of the works selected for this year’s festival are, of course, more “filmic.” Picasso in Palestine is as much about politics as it is about art. The film depicts the massive difficulties encountered by the International Academy of Art Palestine in transporting and exhibiting a classic mid-40s Picasso painting borrowed from Eindhoven for a show. A process that the AGO does routinely (though not without organisational dilemmas) is shown to require enormous efforts in a war-torn terrain. Also quite cinematic—and sociological— is Somewhere to Disappear, a film that documents photographer Alec Soth’s quest to find people who have moved off the grid of contemporary society. It, too, has political resonance.
The conceptual artist Simon Starling employs cinema in Black Drop, teasing out the meaning of the “transit of Venus” and other scientific discoveries. Mea culpa: I am going to introduce this piece and another by Starling, Project for a Masquerade (Hiroshima) as part of RAFF. I urge you to come—not for my introduction but for some wonderful work by the Turner Prize winner in 2005.
I am also honour bound not to review RAFF’s Opening night film Herb and Dorothy 50X50, which documents the efforts of the acclaimed art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel to donate 50 works of conceptual art each to all 50 US states. The resulting doc is more than charming and I will review it when it comes out: this is a Zoomer film par excellence.