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Deconstucting Picasso, delegitimizing Warhol: a look at the FIFA festival

Wearing conversation-arousing garments to a FIFA screening is like wearing a Jane’s Addiction t-shirt to Lollapalooza. At Púbol – Dalí De-construction, one middle-aged woman seated to my left proudly sported a shirt depicting René Magritte’s La Grande Famille, her status as a Surrealism fanatic secured by the print on her chest.

Truly, the audience at most of the Festival International du Film sur l’Art screenings resembled the alumni at a fine art school reunion: seemingly every member was itching to proclaim how significant a role art had played in his or her adult life. Like any other group of festival goers, FIFA attendees are attracted by the opportunity to view films and discuss both their merits in the company of a like-minded group. At FIFA, the various styles of film serve as a forum for discussion dedicated not only to the art of the films but also the art portrayed by the films.

On a Venn diagram comparing film on art and art film, FIFA resides in the overlapping section. The films aim to please fans of public broadcasting documentary programs who may be in search of something more experimental. In Púbol – Dalí De-construction, director José Ramón da Cruz combines traditional documentary-style interviews with Dali-esque imagery and camera effects. Ants inverted in color are juxtaposed with a former Púbol housekeepers’ account of Dalí’s behavior. The film presents a conflict between the director’s Dali-inspired creativity and the background of the artist himself. The resulting combination is a Surrealist documentary with an identity crisis.

John Wyver’s The Art of Francis Bacon is a more traditional film on art, reminiscent of an educational video for a high school history class. However, the focus of this film is not the biography of Bacon, but rather an explanation in his own words of his works and artistic philosophy. At times, the viewer can even see the camera in the reflection of the panes covering the paintings, but this is part of Bacon’s intent; he preferred to shield his work in glass and considered the reflection of the observer an essential part of the viewing process. The film embraces simplicity so as to not distract from Bacon’s brilliantly tumultuous and violent images.

Andy Warhol: Denied is a professionally filmed BBC documentary about the workings of the mysterious Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board. The film argues that the nature of Warhol’s art makes it impossible to determine exactly which pieces are “authentic.” Appropriately, the painting in question and focus of the film is an early Warhol self-portrait. Thus the film also questions the authenticity of Andy Warhol as an artist, a controversial debate regarding the Pop art movement that continues to this day. While the documentary portrays Warhol as an artist who has left a stick in the spokes of the art world, it still leaves the larger concerns unanswered.

FIFA is now in its 26th year and has been expanding since it became an independent organization in 1983. The festival annually includes new subjects to keep up with the ever-expanding realm of fine art. With films like Saving Fallingwater, about the renovation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, and Steve Reich, a portrait of the contemporary composer coinciding with his 70th birthday, it’s clear that most FIFA films address a specific moment in the life of major contributors to the art world. Next year’s event schedule is well worth a review, for there’s a significant chance that at least one film will motivate a trip to the Goethe-Institute, Moleskine in hand.