Sundance Features

January 20, 2007

Amir Bar-Lev, My Kid Could Paint That

"Part of what the film is about is being able to draw your own conclusions rather than throwing your hands up in the air and saying, 'It all looks the same to me.' "

Marla Olmstead, the 4-year-old subject of Amir Bar-Lev's My Kid Could Paint That

(This feature is part of an ongoing series of Reeler profiles of New York films and filmmakers at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Click here for a complete list of this year's interviews.)

Tell me about My Kid Could Paint That.

It's the story of a 4-year-old girl who's sold a couple hundred-thousand dollars' worth of abstract paintings in the space of about six months, and after six months her dad was accused of secretly authoring the paintings.

And controversy ensues.

Controversy ensues, and the filmmaker -- me -- gets dragged into the story because he's mid-way through a film that suggests Marla is doing the paintings. It's kind of a meta-narrative.

Not having seen the film, I'm at kind of a disadvantage, but to what degree is this an entry into personal filmmaking on your part -- especially in relation to your previous work?

I very much hang around the periphery of this story; I'm barely in the movie. But I didn't intend to be a part of the story, nor did I want to be a part of the story. This embattled family came to look to my film to exonerate them after these allegations came up, so the film itself kind of becomes a character in the story.

You're a festival veteran, but what are your primary apprehensions or expectations taking a film like this to the competition and to the market at Sundance?

My main concerns about the festival right now are what's going to happen with my cast who's coming. A bunch of the subjects in my film are coming, and I'm expecting it to be pretty lively and controversial. Part of what the film is about is the way documentary directors get tugged in two opposing directions: 1) their obligation to journalism and the truth, and 2) their friendship with their subjects. This is going to be one of the first times I've seen the subjects since we had a bit of a falling out, which is part of the film -- sort of the climax of the film, actually.

Still, the word-of-mouth on the film implies that you allow the audience members to make up their own minds. Is that an accurate approximation?

Yeah, and one thing I'll add to that is one thing I'm really excited about is that it looks like we've arranged to have six of Marla's paintings on display throughout the festival. Which I'm just thrilled about, because it really will empower the audience to go in and look at them with their own two eyes and draw their own conclusions. It's at the Art is In Gallery at 333 Main Street.

I'm hoping, among other things, that the film kind of traces a journey where you start off kind of baffled about abstract art; part of what the film is about is being able to draw your own conclusions rather than throwing your hands up in the air and saying, "It all looks the same to me." This is kind of beyond my wildest dreams to have the paintings there, where people can kind of act out one of the scenes from the film. And one of the tentpoles in the film is that Michael Kimmelman, the chief art critic for The New York Times, is one of the subjects in the film, and the things that he says about modern art and abstract art are kind of mindblowing in a way.

Sure. He was supposedly great in the Matthew Barney doc that just came out.

Right, and he plays a much larger role in this. He's kind of in between a subject and an interviewee, to tell you the truth. We didn't want to cast any talking heads who were just experts -- who had no connection to Marla. And he had written about Marla in The New York Times. So he's part talking head, part subject. What the film is partially about is the perpetuating of this story of this little girl; myself, Michael Kimmelman and then the third point in this triangle is this woman Elizabeth Cohen, who is the local print journalist who broke the story originally up in Binghamton. Between the three of us, we pretty much tell the story.

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Comments (4)

How old is Marla now?

Dear Mr. Bar-Lev:
Your film about Marla was great, but your agreement to the saying that "...all Art is a 'lie...' is itself an untruth. A lie is a deception "...esp., with intent to deceive..."[See Webster].

Art is not "...trying to be the 'thing....', but is a deeply personal, incredibly TRUE representation of what the artist sees or feels or even imagaines. It is the very antithesis of a 'lie.' Great art is often great because of the gut wrenching knowledge of TRUTH, often beyond words. True art may be among the greatest 'TRUTHS' we will ever know.

To state otherwise is to buy into a serious problem of our present age called 'relativism.' There is in fact TRUTH, and honest art is attempting to portray that in a very deep way.

It is so important that you correct that diatribe several people on the video espoused. They are in fact very sadly missing the entire point of Art---in any form.

Thanks again for a great documentary and for your dedication to telling an important Truth, from many different view points. Well done!

I enjoyed your documentary. After drawing my own conclusion I passed it on to my parents. Dad is an art major and realestate guru, mom has been a day care provider since the 70's. I won't name drop, but I will say they own many thousand's of dollars of art. We all came to the same conclusion. It was so nice seeing a father and daughter paint TOGETHER.
P.S. My two year old daughter is also an abstract painter, any buyers?

It was a well done documentary, but I wonder, if Mr. Bar-Lev has kids? If not, I would ask him to revisit this when he's got one. They are so sensitive to the slightest change in the environment, e.g. a camera in the room, a stranger, etc. It can change their whole personality. And to remember for her the act of painting is the thing, not the painting itself. She would be just as happy with mud as a masterpiece.

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