The Edmonton International Film Festival (EIFF) kicked off last night and I plan to watch about 20 films in ten days. Last year, I wrote mostly mini-reviews in groups of four, but that does not do justice to the calibre of films being offered at EIFF. For example, last year I watched Academy-Award-nominated films like Room, Brooklyn, Son of Saul and Mustang (not to mention many other award-winning films) weeks or months before they showed up at the cinema. These films deserve more than one brief paragraph. So I’m going to write one EIFF review each day for the next 20 days or so, beginning with the opening film at EIFF: Heavyweightpaint, a documentary by Jeff Martini which had its world premiere last night.
Heavyweightpaint is the story of four struggling artists (painters) in New York City, three of whom grew up in Canada. Their names are Tim Okamura (from Edmonton), Taha Clayton (from Toronto), Joseph Adolphe (from Calgary) and Jerome LaGarrigue (from Paris). They are all extraordinarily talented painters but the film makes clear that it’s very hard to make a living painting, even if you are an excellent artist.
Having connected to each other through Okamura, the four artists meet regularly to support each other and share their struggles. The film begins in 2011, when all four artists are finding it hard to display and sell their quality paintings. They eventually decide to do a show together, around the theme of boxing, though Hurricane Sandy delays the show for five months. It eventually takes place in May of 2013, though not with the results which they had hoped for.
From 2011 to May of 2013, Martini, who already had a relationship with the artists, shot over 120 hours of film, which he then edited to make Heavyweightpaint. The result is a very fine directing debut, though I think the film would have benefited from a little more editing (taking out another fifteen less-important minutes and focusing a little more on what happened after 2012, which only gets about 15 minutes). I understand that most of Martini’s footage was from 2011 and early 2012, but it still dominates the story too much.
On the positive side, the film’s organic, raw and informal nature allows us to get a very intimate glimpse into the life and personalities of the four men. All four artists and the director were at the premiere last night and we got to see even more of their personalities, including Okamura’s apology to his mother for his frequent use of foul language in the film (this was the first time the four artists saw the film). Of particular interest with regard to Okamura is that he is of Japanese-Canadian descent but paints primarily African-Americans, something which has drawn a lot of criticism in New York (which makes no sense, because, as Okamura says, he started painting African-Americans because they are under-represented in art).
It was a great start to the festival and Heavyweightpaint gets a solid *** verging on ***+. My mug is up, but it’s not likely that you’ll find this documentary showing at a theatre near you.