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Tag: documentary

Interviews

Daria Price Discusses Her Latest Documentary “Driven to Abstraction”

October 4, 2019
Director Daria Price

Are you familiar with the Ann Freedman case, the $80 million forgery scandal that shook the art world? No? Well, then you should check out Driven to Abstraction the first chance you get. We sat down with director Daria Price and talked about this incredibly fascinating case, her new documentary, the art world and Price’s her love for the film industry.

Liselotte Vanophem: Hi Daria, welcome at the Raindance Film Festival. How do you feel about your film being screened here at the lovely festival?

Daria Price (Director): It’s very hard to know at festivals whether people will come to see it or not. I know a certain amount of people who are coming. I tried to get the word out to everyone. It’s very hard to do that when living in New York. I was trying to get the word out to art galleries and to places of which I thought they would be interested in seeing this film. I hope some strangers will come as well. One of the composers of the film just flew in from Padua and I have a few other friends coming as well. One of the participants in the film is going to be there as well.

LV: How did you become aware of the Ann Freedman case?

DP: Well, I’ve read an article in the New York Times from Patricia, who becomes one of the main characters in the film. I’ve always followed art forgery cases. I wrote a screenplay many years ago. One of the characters was a restoration expert and the two others were painters of which one of them was a bit of a forger. I had done an enormous amount of research because of that and it was like I already knew a whole lot about forgery. My eyes always fell on articles regarding art forgery and so I started to read multiple of those.

I always clipped articles. Something that my whole family does. I thought the story of Ann Freedman became a crazier and crazier story but it was a very difficult story to figure out how you would get into it. There’s always that “is she guilty or not guilty?” question. More than that, it was such an embarrassment for people in the art world, including completely innocent people. That’s what’s interesting about this case. Whether they were consciously tricked or whether it was just a sort of conspiracy. I became more and more interested in it and the story didn’t make a whole lot of sense in some ways. Then you find out that it wasn’t only Knoedler but also more of esteemed art galleries.

LV: As you said, some people didn’t want to participate in this film. Who was the first person you contacted that said yes to this?

DP: I’ve already been collecting for a couple of years articles about this case and then I started to do my own research so I could find out everything about it. Any filmmaker I knew said, “Do not make this film. It’s a great and fascinating story but you just can’t make it because everyone is going to run away if this would be true“. I went to speak with Patricia from the New York Times, who dug into the story and knew a lot about it, and when she agreed to participate that’s when I went “Ok, I should make this”. At least, it meant that I had a way in.

LV: In this film, we also see Ann Freedman’s attorney. How was he?

DP: It took a long time to get him. It wasn’t like he said not but he just wasn’t available. He’s a very busy and successful lawyer. When I interviewed with him, he became the spokesman of that side of the story. I think he did a very good job. Lawyers tell the story that they want the world to believe. Many things didn’t end up in the film. We could have easily made another film about how an attorney can spin a story. He did have an answer for everything.

Filmmaker, Daria Price (source: documentary.org)
LV: People told you “maybe you shouldn’t make this film“?…

DP: Well not because they think it wasn’t a good idea but they just thought that it was impossible to make. Raising money for a documentary and getting access to the right people is a very hard thing to do. I wasn’t going to get access to some people because they were under indictment. Ann Freedman was another story because she was under a lot of legal threats and she ultimately didn’t want to go on camera.

LV: Were there any moments you thought “Ok, maybe thee’s people are right. Maybe I can’t make this movie”?

DP: I think as a filmmaker you always have those moments. You’re going “what on earth am I doing?”. The work kept going on forever and I was going broke. I tend to finish things I started. It’s maybe insane. I think that there were people that were kind of glad that I was making this film. Those people weren’t guilty of anything but they’ve been to Ann while her (fake) painting was sitting there. It wasn’t their job to say “hey, is that a real one?”. That’s not what happens in an art gallery. You’re sitting in Knoedler and so you’re not questioning whether something is real or not. Some people like it that I was making this film but they couldn’t decide whether they wanted to participate. It wasn’t going to them any good. It wasn’t also that they were so heroic that they were going to do it for history. I think in the end I got interesting people to talk about interesting situations.

LV: Before making this documentary, you were already collecting articles about this case. While filming this documentary, what was the biggest surprise for you regarding the case? What was something you didn’t know beforehand?

DP: As I started to interview people who also knew other things, I was learning more and more about it. Why wasn’t it so unusual that these art experts would not raise a red flag. Some of them did so it would be wrong that say that they never did it. People don’t buy houses for 15 million dollars without having a lawyer coming around and checking it out. These collectors were buying paintings for millions of dollars. A painting that has no papers attached to them. Anonymity is what every buyer wants and then sadly they pay the price for it. They would have that people don’t know that they just bought a fake painting for a lot of money. What happens then is that no one’s talking about that topic.

I think the biggest surprise was this whole thing with Ramiro Gonzales. She wasn’t even someone I was trying to get because she was under a lot of indictment. She wasn’t going to go on camera. She was sort of the least ambiguous character because she had admitted guilt. Then it turned out that she has been beaten up by her boyfriend. Things like that do change your attitude towards her. At first, people were angry at her because they thought that she had ruined the art world but eventually she was just another woman abused by her husband.

LV: This documentary now premiered at Raindance. Are you going to take it to other film festivals after this one?

DP: Yes, it goes to the Haifa International Film Festival in Israel and then we’re taking it to upstate New York to the Film Columbia festival. In November, it will be screened at the Fort Lauderdale Int Film Festival.

LV: Do you have any paintings from famous artists yourself?

DP: No, but I do have a lot of friends who are painters. A lot of the paintings that are in the background of the interviews in this documentary were made by my friends. There’s a certain look that a lot of documentaries have now and it’s a very beautiful look and very sophisticated but sometimes I have the feeling that where the interviews are being taken place has nothing to do with the documentary they’re making.

I wanted to give the people the feeling that they were always in the world of art. Not necessary in the world of the masters in the art industry because those paintings might have been fakes anyway. I wanted to put authentic work painted by contemporary working artists as the background of those interviews. You will get the feeling that you’re always surrounded by paintings and art. For me, it was really about creating the environment.

LV: Do you already have other projects coming up?

DP: I have other ideas. Making this documentary and promoting it is so time-consuming. After spending a lot of time making a film, you’re becoming your sales-person. You’re doing the festivals and you’re trying to find a distributor. I have no time to start making another project.

(This interview was written as part of Big Picture Film Club’s coverage of the Raindance Film Festival 2019)

Driven To Abstraction (Documentary Trailer)

Also Read: Driven To Abstraction (Review)

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Reviews

Review: The Great Hack

August 10, 2019
The Great Hack Poster

The idea of everyone being connected by the internet once had positive connotations. The films that showed the supposed dangers of the digital world like The Matrix seemed so preposterous. But in a post-Edward Snowden and Wikileaks world, the dangers of the internet are now all too real.

There have been several documentaries in recent years about the acquisition of private information online and today we are going to be looking at Netflix’s newest offering to this particular subject, The Great Hack.

Synopsis

Cambridge Analytica was at the centre of several world-altering campaigns in the last few years. Leave.EU in the UK Brexit debate and the Donald Trump Presidential campaign in the USA. But while they had a huge impact on these campaigns, their methods were far more nefarious. Analytica harvested personal information from thousands of Facebook users, without their consent, and then used this to create targeted marketing.

The film follows several people involved in the unravelling of the CA scandal. Including David Carroll, who sued CA to get back the data CA had on him. Former CA employees such as Brittany Kaiser who have decided to blow the whistle on the company. And journalist Carol Cadwalladr.

What did I like?

There are two things that The Great Hack does very well. The first is the way it uses graphics and montages. Throughout the film, graphics are used to impart/illustrate information quickly in a way that doesn’t intrude on the action. And along with graphics the film also uses montages of websites and news stories to give a sense of mood. The montage of various targeted Facebook adverts showing how CA was able to manipulate how people see the world and the use of small square particles to indicate the passage of online info, effectively illustrates how much of our personal daily life is part of and reliant on the internet. Making the points made about CA more threatening.

The second positive is the presentation of the emotional arc of one of the principal participants, Brittany Kaiser. Kaiser, once a key player inside Cambridge Analytica, later came forward with information about how CA conducted their operations. The presentation of her arc from an idealist working on the Obama campaign to being part of the unethical practices of CA is fascinating. Because her motivations are so human. She switched sides in political marketing because she needed money to support herself, which the Obama campaign apparently would not give her. She enjoyed working with who she worked with, so she didn’t see all the negative implications that we can see as outsiders. But she admits her flaws and in the end, stands up for everyone’s right to privacy. Honestly, the film owes much of its success to Kaiser’s inclusion.

However, this leads me into The Great Hack’s problems.

What did I not like?

The Great Hacks first major problem is its pacing. The films key arguments: The dangers of companies using personal information to target you with marketing on social media; Our overreliance on the internet & What CA was up to and how it impacted the world. Are all covered within the first hour. The film then spends another hour repeating the same points. And it begins to get frustrating. This wouldn’t be so bad if the film employed new ways to engage us. But the camerawork is standard, the music is unengaging and the visual flourishes are too infrequent.

Secondly, because the documentary focuses on peoples journeys with CA, it’s critical to get the audience on side with the participants. But Kaiser is the only participant who manages to engage with the audience because she acts like a normal person. Carol Cadwalladr isn’t given enough screentime for us to care about her involvement. And David Carroll, who blatantly tells the audience, that companies having access to private information without consent is bad as if we didn’t already know, projects a very condescending attitude. Which is nothing but off-putting. Not helped when he consistently takes jabs at Kaiser.

There is also a problem with some points being over and underexplained. It expects you to already subscribe to the belief that Trump and Brexit were a bad idea, without giving any contextual information. But they spend an inordinate amount of time talking how information is gathered online and the dangers it poses to privacy. Something that is common knowledge by this point.

Finally, The Great Hack appears to argue that the Trump and Brexit campaigns were wholly won by targeted social media. Ignoring the larger issues of social division and the growing disillusionment with so-called experts and politicians. Electing to solely focus on technology as the purveyor of misfortune. Which seems a little reductive of a complicated issue.

Verdict

Overall while The Great Hack does have some minor visual flair and one incredibly well-told arc, it’s not enough to carry the film. Perhaps as an hour-long TV special it would have faired better. The stripped-down, just the facts version of the story would have been at least novel as a piece of unfolding news.

But as a film, The Great Hack is severely sloppy as it drags its points out and operates from a condescending and in some ways reductive viewpoint, that ultimately will leave most viewers either cold or frustrated.

Verdict: 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Also Read: Five Documentaries To Watch On Netflix

News

Short Documentary | Why Do British Asians Never Make It Pro?

February 1, 2019

Adam McKola goes on a journey to try and discover why professional football in Britain continues to overlook British Asians. We follow Adam as he discovers the reasons some British Asian footballers and coaches feel they have been held back, reasons for this and what the football governing bodies and the British Asian communities can do to improve the amount of British Asians at football’s highest level.

Watch the full documentary below

Short Documentary “Why Do British Asians Never Make It Pro?”
Podcast

Bootlegged VHS & The Romanian Revolution

January 17, 2018

Stumbled across a fascinating interview about Romanian icon Irina Margereta Nistoir, whose indirect role helped evolve the Romanian Revolution.

The country felt the impact of being culturally and societally left in the dark, isolated from the rest of the world with Western culture banned during dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s rule. Chuck Norris Vs Communism tells the story of how the banned American films were smuggled into 1980’s Romania during a time where free speech and access to media was controlled by the government.

Irina was a film translator for Romanian State Television, a censorship committee that decided what to broadcast, translating their communist ideologies. The role was never suited to her, so when a colleague asked if she could translate films for a friend, she leapt at the opportunity, risking her freedom by single-handedly dubbing every line of every character in over 3000+ bootlegged movies.

There was a desire to learn about a forbidden society and underground film clubs soon became popular. Watching these films became a matter of survival, and classics such as Rocky and Dirty Dancing eventually became tools for imagination, growth and development.

Truly a remarkable woman whose contribution to film has impacted history and the world over, her iconic voice became a symbol of hope and freedom. The revolutionary role of movie-smuggling helped liberate the people of Romania, and at this year’s SXSW Irina will be discussing how the same could be done for the people of North Korea.