Tonight, as I continued my viewing of all the SXSW films that are currently available on Prime, I watched three short documentaries. Each one of them dealt with real people seeking their own artistic truth.
Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business (dir by Christine Turner)
Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business is essentially an interview with the legendary artist Betye Saar, with some archival footage worked in and, of course, some footage of her artwork. It’s a simple format but that’s okay. It’s a fascinating documentary because Betye Saar is a fascinating artist. Saar has been creating art for over 70 years and, at the age of 93, she’s still working in her Los Angeles studio, creating works that can make people angry and that can make them think.
The film delves into Saar’s civil right activism and how, through her artwork, she has taken the stereotypical images that were once used to demean African-Americans and has weaponized them in the fight for equal rights. As we see in the documentary, one of Saar’s most acclaimed pieces features Aunt Jemima with a rifle and a grenade.
It’s a short documentary. Betye Saar is such a lively and outspoken subject that you find yourself wishing that the documentary was a bit longer. You also wish that the documentary had spent more time on the briefly mentioned “occult” influences on Saar’s work. Still, by the end of the film, you’re happy for the time that the filmmaker did have with Saar. She’s a fascinating artist.
Hiplet: Because We Can (dir by Addison Wright)
This likable 8 minute film is about the Hiplet Ballerinas. (Hiplet is a mix of classical ballet and hip hop. It’s pronounced Hip-lay.) Though there is a black-and-white sequence where the dancers talk about themselves and what hiplet means to them, the majority of the film is just made up of footage of the Hiplet Ballerinas performing. They are amazing dancers and exciting to watch. If you love dance, as I do, you’ll not only enjoy this documentary but you’ll also be excited about it. This is a documentary that reminds us that dance is for every one. As many of the dancers point out, they may not be stereotypical ballerinas but it doesn’t matter because stereotypes were made to be destroyed. As this documentary shows, dancing is beautiful and dancing is for all.
Quilt Fever (dir by Oliva Merrion)
Quilt Fever was a real surprise. This documentary deals with a subject (quilting) that I don’t know much about and it’s almost exclusively populated by people with whom I don’t have much in common but I still found it be enthralling and ultimately, rather touching.
Quilt Fever follows an annual quilting competition that takes place in the town of Paducah, Kentcuky. It’s known as the Academy Awards of Quilting and it attracts quilters from all over the country. The film not only shows us the competition but it also features profiles of a few of the people who are competing. As you might guess, they’re all a bit eccentric. For the most part, they’re all older women, the type of people who living in “fly over country” and who are usually looked down upon by the coastal elitists. They may not be celebrities but they’ve found fame in the quilting world and they’ve also found a welcoming (if competitive) community. Quilt Fever is an even-handed and nonjudgmental look at that community, one that never indulges in the type of condescension that we far too often see in documentaries about people in the middle of the country. It’s a sweet-natured documentary and definitely a treat to watch.