VIFF Preview| The Woodmans and Waste Land

Francesca Woodman, Untitled (1978)
The story of art and family is always rich and compelling, as is the relationship between artists and the spaces they creatively inhabit. Each of these themes serves as backdrop for two fascinating films set to screen at the Vancouver International Film Festival in the coming two weeks: C. Scott Willis’s The Woodmans and Lucy Walker’s Waste Land.

The Woodmans, which took top documentary award at the most recent Tribeca Film Festival, centers around the internal dynamics and family relationships of famed photographer Francesca Woodman, a talented and enigmatic photographer whose haunting photographs and experimental films of nudes taken over nine short years (before her tragic suicide in 1981 at 22 years of age) have continued to captivate artists and art theorists interested in the permeable border between the photographer’s eye and the internal state of their chosen subjects. As art critic Elizabeth Janus describes in a FlashArt article about Woodman, “like other women artists of her generation, (Woodman) must have been aware of newly emerging film theories, particularly Laura Mulvey’s ground-breaking essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (published in Screen in 1975) and its discussion of psychoanalysis and the social formations of the self through cinematic representations of women. These developments, as well as William Eggleston’s breaking through the color barrier in art photography, lead to a boom during the early 1980s that made photography the medium par excellence for artists interested in challenging the established criteria imposed on photography as art by modernist and pictorialist traditions.” The film, much like Woodman’s photographs, suggests an intimate encounter with the family of artists Woodman grew up with—her father George is a painter and her mother Betty is a ceramicist, both of whom have exhibited and shown works at high profile galleries in the U.S., and her brother Charles is an artist and art professor—and the undercurrent of competition and coming to terms with a family of creative individuals working to express their own vision operates at the core of this documentary film.

Vik Muniz, Socrates (1978)
Waste Land, in a somewhat similar vein, is a documentary film that also tackles the personal relationships developed between contemporary Brazilian artist Vik Muniz and the garbage pickers that he befriends in Rio de Janeiro for collaborative art projects using the waste of the city. This collaboration goes back to 1998 and Muniz’s “Aftermath” project when the artist first began inviting street children to find pictures they identified with in art history books and then asked them to pose in the position of the principal figure for portrait photographs. Muniz would then collect street sweepings left over from the famous carnival in Rio de Janeiro and scatter them onto a light box, skilfully dusting and vacuuming part of the material away to leave a convincing replica of the original photograph (see image above). These portraits, together with Muniz’s other detailed works (he has made detailed replicas of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa out of jelly and peanut butter and worked in sugar, wire, thread, and Bosco Chocolate Syrup, to produce recreations of other canonical images in the history of art) point to the relationship between the superficial surface of images and their complex histories. Therefore, while the film features Muniz’s attempts to bring attention to the pressing social, political, and ecological conditions that have created the problems of Brazil (the film won the World Audience Award at the most recent Sundance Film Festival), his strong belief in the conceptual aspects of making art from trash and other unexpected materials features as a prominent undercurrent of the documentary as a whole.

The Woodmans will be running at VIFF on Thursday, September 30th @ 9:00pm (Vanccity), Saturday, October 9th @ 12:20pm (Granville 7), and Sunday, October 10th @ 6:00pm (Granville 7)

Waste Land will be running at VIFF Friday, October 1st @ 6:20pm (Granville 7) and Saturday, October 2nd @ 11:40am (Granville 7)

Trailers for both The Woodmans and Waste Land