Features Canada

The finest art films on earth

We pick the best from Fifa, the world’s biggest festival of its kind, taking place in Montreal this month

Some of the subjects of Jake Auerbach’s “The Last Art Film”

The 31st International Festival of Films on Art (Fifa)—the world’s largest festival of its kind—takes place in Montreal, Canada, from 14 to 24 March. Fifa presents documentaries and more experimental films, with a particular emphasis on the visual arts. This year’s jury is chaired by Olivier Kaeppelin, the director of the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence and the former head of the renovation project at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. Fifa will also include a series of films by the British film-maker Gerald Fox, who is creating a film-based installation called Impressions of Venice for the annual event.

For the third consecutive year, the festival will include a market section, where distributors and media buyers can attend more intimate screenings and meet film-makers and producers at private networking events.

Highlights among the festival’s 200-plus films include:

“An Ocean of Images” — The director Helen Doyle interviews and follows photographers and graphic artists to examine what makes specific images stand out from the many thousands produced each day. Her subjects include the photographers Philip Blenkinsop, Stanley Greene and Geert van Kesteren and the graphic artist Ing Phousera.

“Behind the Wall” — The directors Sebastián Miló and Rolando Almirante look at the creation of a series of site-specific works made for the Malecón, the famous seaside promenade in Havana, Cuba, to coincide with the 2012 Havana Biennial. Curators and artists discuss the problems of producing the works (one car, given a makeover to look like a submarine, was followed by the police as it made its way to the shore) and the sense of longing and wistfulness that many Cubans feel as they look towards the ocean.

“Bending Sticks: the Sculpture of Patrick Dougherty” — Penelope Maunsell and Kenny Dalsheimer’s film is a profile of the artist Patrick Dougherty, who has gained an international reputation for his large-scale works, made by manipulating and interweaving sapling trees and branches. We learn how this work has been a lifetime’s passion, beginning with the construction of camps and forts in the woodlands he played in as a child.

“The Last Art Film” — In this portentously titled work, Jake Auerbach, a highly regarded biographer of artists on film and the son of the painter Frank Auerbach, sets out to establish what motivates artists to take up their careers. The film includes revealing interviews with the artists Tracey Emin, Michael Landy, Paula Rego, Gary Hume, Michael Craig-Martin and Joe Tilson, with the actors Jim Broadbent, Ian Holm, Lizzy McInnerny and Tim McInnerny voicing the words of artists who are no longer with us.

“George Bellows” — This compelling portrait, directed by David Hammer, written and produced by Carroll Moore and narrated by the actor Ethan Hawke, gives audiences in Montreal a chance to see a film made in conjunction with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, to coincide with the gallery’s major Bellows retrospective last year.

“Salvador Dalí: Tragicomic Genius” — François Lévy-Kuentz’s film was also co-produced by an institution holding a major show (Centre Pompidou, “Dalí”, until 25 March). There is little still to discover about the artist billed by the Pompidou as the “Master of Provocation”, but Lévy-Kuentz presents Dalí’s life with great energy and charm and particularly well-chosen archive footage.

“Chihuly Outside” — The director Peter West’s film is devoted to work made by Dale Chihuly—arguably the world’s leading artist in glass—that has been presented outdoors or, in some cases, in public hothouses. Chihuly’s organic forms are well known, but a general audience may be less familiar with his neon works (first made long before the recent trend for neon in sculpture), specifically those made by presenting neon lighting inside huge blocks of ice.

“Sagrada—the Mystery of Creation” — The Swiss film-maker Stephan Haupt has created a definitive document on Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família cathedral in Barcelona, a project that began in the 1880s and continues today. The film is fabulously detailed and includes intriguing tales, such as that of the Japanese chief sculptor who converted to Catholicism so that he could more readily comprehend Gaudí’s vision.

“Fortuny and the Magic Lantern” — Claudio Zulian uses the career of the vaunted Spanish lighting and fashion designer Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo as the starting point of an investigation into the cross-fertilisation of ideas of art and design between Western and Eastern traditions.

“Edward Hopper and the Blank Canvas” — Anyone who visited the recent Edward Hopper exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, and who now finds themselves in Montreal, will enjoy “Edward Hopper and the Blank Canvas”, a workmanlike film by Jean-Pierre Devillers and Didier Ottinger on the American artist who largely defied categorisation, outside the very general rubric of Realism. The film has excellent archive footage of the artist and the added bonus of the German film director Wim Wenders giving an interview in perfect French.

“Sol LeWitt” — There seems to be a new documentary on LeWitt every year, but the Dutch director Chris Teerink’s film is worth the effort. It centres the artist’s well-documented life story around the installation in 2010 of Walldrawing #801: Spiral, 1996, in the tower of the Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht. The observations by LeWitt’s collaborators, colleagues, curators and assistants are insightful and the installation process is fascinating.

“Eighty Years Young: Duane Michals—the Man Who Invented Himself” — Camille Guichard’s portrait of the photographer Duane Michals is a delight. Michals, now in his 80s, is a superb portraitist as well as a tireless experimenter who invented a distinctive style of narrative work, often involving writing and captioning, as well as using mirrors to great imaginative effect. He is a charming anecdotalist and an engaging public speaker, all of which comes across in this film.

For more details, visit www.artfifa.com

The portrait photographer Duane Michals is the charming subject of a documentary portrait by Camille Guichard
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18 Mar 13
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