Wednesday, September 11, 2013

TIFF 2013: Co-Directors John Maloof & Charlie Siskel: "Finding Vivian Maier"

As a street style photographer, I've been hugely anticipating John Maloof and Charlie Siskel's ambitious documentary Finding Vivian Maier -- a film that retraces the life of a mysterious nanny, who is now posthumously receiving international acclaim for her beautiful street photography from the 40's and 50's. And I'm ecstatic to say that the film didn't disappoint.

[Filmmakers John Maloof (left) & Charlie Siskel (right) at the film's TIFF premiere]

It all began when Maloof recently purchased boxes filled with Maier's old photo negatives at a Chicago auction for $380. Recognizing the photos' artistic merits, he uploaded a few of them on his blog to see what kind of response he'd get. Much to his surprise, the response was enormous.

Certainly, what made her photos special was how she captured the beauty in things that wasn't obvious to everyone else. She took photos of children, the elderly and often her reflection in mirrors and windows. Indeed, the time capsule aspect of her work is also intriguing.

In the film, Maloof interviews Maier's employers and their children (now in their 40s). Interestingly, aside from her name and love of photography, no one knew anything significant about her. Maier preferred to remain a mystery to everyone. Some of the children remembered her as being dark. She collected newspaper clippings with headlines about unspeakable violence. She was also a eccentric pack rat of various things.

One French linguist even questions her French accent, saying it was fake. How could she have a French accent if she were born in New York? 

Other questions raised throughout the film: Was she possibly abused as a child? And was she suffering from mental illness?

No one knew the answers.

And for one brief moment, Maier's presumed innocent image is shattered when one of the children recounts her abuse at the hand of the artist. To their credit, the filmmakers avoid following the abuse angle, which wisely prevents the film from degenerating into a tabloid piece.

Finally, when the Maloof and Siskel take us to the French Alps, where Maier's relatives live, you feel like you're getting closer to reaching her inner most sanctum. As private as she was, Maier may not have wanted this kind of attention, but it's safe to say that liberating her photos for the world to see has made many people happy. Currently, Maier's work can be seen in galleries in New York, Los Angeles and London. And for that, Maloof is to be commended.

Finding Vivian Maier is a masterful film that should not be missed.

* Black and white photos by Vivian Maier

No comments:

Post a Comment