Each Oscar season there is one category that I particularly love–the Documentaries. Some of these movies are simply the best ones made each year but they do not get a wide release (or sometimes none at all). At least, thanks to the Academy, we generally can see the 5 films that the nominating committee found most worthy. For a few months, at least, Documentaries get their voice.
And the one voice I really want to show some love to is the film Finding Vivian Maier. This is a magic piece that speaks volumes but does so with simple beauty. First off, if you haven’t seen it in a theater, you can stream it via iTunes or Netflix so it is easy to see and appreciate. Second, this film takes the audience by surprise as it slowly builds a complex story of a woman, little known and apparently even less understood. Vivian Maier was a nanny who took photographs. That’s the basic plot point but oh there is more. The filmmaker, John Maloof, happened upon boxes of prints and some negatives taken by this nanny at an estate (more junk than glamour) sale. Maloof sort of buys these as a whim and then upon looking at the photos, really street photography of the unique people that make up city life, he realizes that her photographic talent is off the charts.
Not satisfied with simply that box of prints and negative, Maloof begins a journey to find Vivian Maier’s total works and, in the process, finds a complicated, little understood woman who had quite an eye for art and the human condition. Maloof travels and interview many that knew Maier, finds more of her work (and there is a ton) and posts photos which create a wildfire of interest. But, there are challenges from the mainstream art community and from developing a narrative about what made Vivian Maier (if that was her name) tick. The movie documents her life, though she died before he found her work. Like most of our lives, hers was not easy to unravel nor presented a clear line of who she was and what made her photographic eye so keen.
It is in the mystery that a story unfolds–with twists, turns and confounding stories from the persons who knew her mainly tangentially as that seems to be all she allowed the world to share of her. The piece holds the attention of the audience wanting to know more about this woman and uses the unique photos to capture the story with more meaning and depth. Ultimately, we all want to Find Vivian Maier, a fascinating tour de force film about a complicated and very interesting subject. Art and sociology mix but in a fun way that captivates yet challenges. I cannot recommend this film enough. I can’t imagine anyone not being charmed by it. This is a great documentary. Stream it now and see if you don’t love it too!