When he first read about the work of street photographer Vivian Maier, Charlie Siskel admits he didn't think it would make a great documentary film. But after he got a call from his friend Jeff Garlin, the Curb Your Enthusiasm star who also works as a producer, he changed his mind. The resulting film, Finding Vivian Maier, opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre.
The film documents how collector John Maloof randomly discovered Maier's negatives and then worked tirelessly to get prints made and sent to galleries. Maier's work has now received international acclaim.
"I think initially I was drawn to the story the same way everyone is — by the headline: Nanny Takes Hundreds of Photos, Never Shows Them, and Now She's Hailed as One of the Great Photographers of the 20th Century," Siskel says. "It seemed like a great story to tell, a person leading a double life.
Through careful research, Siskel meticulously reveals her life story and combines a narrative about her life as a nanny with the narrative of her life as an artist.
"We had to weave together the detective work about who was this artist who didn't live as an artist," Siskel says. "We also wanted to tell the story of the discovery. We wanted to validate her life's work. There were times when the structure wasn't working at all and the idea of interweaving those stories was almost abandoned at one point."
In the end, however, the film's structure successfully captures the two lives that Maier led.
"While I started out thinking I was looking for this woman as a double life, what I started to realize was really important is that she was an artist," says Siskel. "It's the story of someone who was misunderstood and not known during her lifetime. She made the sacrifice that all artists make and she lived a lie and kept her art a secret and living this double life to make it possible. I think [if she had shown her work during her lifetime], she would have been recognized as an equal to the artists who did succeed not only in making great art but in getting recognition and having their work shown in museums and galleries. Her work is that good."
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