Yoshitomo Nara

Are Films Really Art? It's a Moot Point at the Reel Artists Film Festival

For its seventh annual run, the Reel Artists Film Festival takes us into the lives and creative processes of leading art world stars, with 13 documentaries in all. Artists like African sculptor El Anatsui, Canadians Alex Colville and Francoise Sullivan, Japanese painter Yoshitomo Nara, and Jean-Michel Basquiat will be profiled on the big screen, from February 24 to February 28. Oh, and the films will be introduced by a who's who of art critics and curators.

It all kicks off this evening, with the Canadian premiere of Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (fresh from Sundance) followed by a big-ticket soiree at the Royal Conservatory, TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, 273 Bloor Street West.

New to the fest, I asked Ann Webb, Reel Artists Film Festival Founder and Organizer and Executive Director of the Canadian Art Foundation, to fill me in on the festival's mandate and why opening night tickets are so darned expensive.

The Reel Artists Film Festival is a Canadian Art Foundation initiative. How did this film program come about?

The Festival started seven years ago. I was inspired by a similar festival in Naples Italy called Arte Cinema. When I met the founder of that festival, I thought, "we need to do this in Toronto". So, I began to research documentary films about visual artists. And, I learned that there were many excellent films being made but they were not being screened very much. Our festival, which is the only one of its kind in North America, that is, that is devoted to documentaries about visual artists and art exclusively.

Tickets to the opening night screening of Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child are $175. I haven't seen the film - is it THAT good? ;)

The $175 ticket price is for the opening night screening and celebration. The opening night is our second biggest fundraising event so all the proceeds benefit the work of the Canadian Art foundation, which, of course, includes the annual film festival. And, yes, the evening is worth $175!
[writer's tip: shmooze it up or catch the encore presentation on Sunday, February 28 at regular admission price]

What are the festival's "best bets" for film buffs?

All of them.

What are the festival's "best bets" for art buffs?

All of them.
[writer's tip: Ernst Beyeler: Art Dealer takes us into the big business side of the art world and the screening will be followed by a Q & A between Ann Webb and the head of the Beyeler Foundation. An insider also recommends the world premiere of Fold, Crumple, Crush: The Art of El Anatsui. El Anatsui will have a career retrospective at the ROM in fall 2010. Plus, there are free student screenings on Feb. 26!]

What do you hope the Toronto audiences will take away from this year's Reel Artists Film Festival?

There are a number of curatorial streams that run through the festival line up. The student screenings all deal with the performative in art.
The other stream is really that of generations. Six of the films deal with individuals who are in their 80s and 90s and are still active as artists and in the artworld. I hope audience members will see how vibrant these artists continue to be and how age is not a factor when it come to making excellent art and contributing to the world. Also, I hope audience members see how with the passing of time, we come to appreciate artists of our time - and perhaps, we should be paying attention to what's going on around us - this is especially true in Jean-Michel Basquiat's case. He was making great art and now, 25 years later, his work continues to be a major influence.

The Reel Artists Film Festival runs February 24 to February 28, 2010 at the Al Green Theatre, 750 Spadina Avenue (at Bloor). Tickets $10/$12; festival passes $65 are available online in advance. See the full schedule here.

Image: Yoshitomo Nara Š Hako Hasokawa, courtesy of Reel Artists Film Festival.

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