Arts / Truth, the whole truth and nothing but documentaries

A still from “Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back”… Weaving’s “not-to-be-missed” film about about the art market.

AS filmmaker, director, curator, critic and lecturer, Simon Weaving well knows that truth is stranger and stronger than fiction, and in his Winter Film Series for the National Gallery he’s set to prove that once and for all.

Weaving has form in this department and, with Deborah Kingsland, founded the “Stronger than Fiction” doco festival in Canberra, due to screen again in August.

But first there’s the NGA series, one that’s been lighting up the gallery in the icy months for six years.

“In the last two years of directing the Canberra International Film I screened a couple of movies about art at the gallery and when I left I caught up with them and we kept going,” he tells us when “CityNews” catches up with Weaving by phone to his office at the University of Newcastle.

The aim is to stage the very latest films about art, fashion and culture, and Weaving is quick to assert that the drama in films about those subjects is every bit as powerful as anything that can be cooked up in fiction.

Mind you, one of his greatest hits at a previous festival was “La Banda Picasso” (“Picasso’s Gang”) in which the famous artist and his mates are accused of trying to make off with the “Mona Lisa” from the Louvre – “A sort of rollicking Spanish comedy,” Weaving says and a mix of fact and fiction.

“So we do screen dramatic shows, but it’s all about stories and the best documentaries have the best stories,” he says.

What’s really getting him going is the Australian premiere of “Shadowman”, the story of Richard Hambleton, one of the founders, along with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, of the street art movement who disappeared for more than 20 years after succumbing to drugs and homelessness.

Richard Hambleton from “Shadowman”. Photo by Ben Buchanan

American director Oren Jacoby, who’ll be doing a Skype Q&A to Canberra, tracked Hambleton down and tried to bring him back into the international art market where the long-dead Basquiat sells for squillions.

“It plays like a thriller,” Weaving says. “I was blown away and I hadn’t even heard of him, he had the misfortune not to die young – it’s quite a rollercoaster.”

But he’s not telling us the ending and, as they say in showbiz: “You’ll just have to be there to see what happens.”

There’s an unintentional link in the festival with another art-related film, “Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait”, about the director of the 1996 film “Basquiat,” in which David Bowie played the part of Andy Warhol. Schnabel went on from being the darling of the Manhattan art scene to winning awards for his filmmaking at Cannes.

On a quieter note, Robin McKenna’s film “Gift”, shot in British Columbia, Rome, Nevada and Australia, explores how artistic expression and generosity of spirit are an antidote to materialism.

Weaving’s “not-to-be-missed” film is one about about the art market, “Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back”. Italian artist Cattelan is the man who tried to interest Donald Trump in a gold toilet called “America”, shocked the Catholic Church with his wax effigy of Pope John Paul II struck by a meteorite and staged a fake Biennale in the Caribbean, inviting great artists who arrived to find nothing more than 15 artists in the swimming pool.

“It’s a funny and provocative film, but is the film itself a fake?” Weaving asks. “The film may have fallen under Cattelan’s spell a bit, but no it’s not fake” – Weaving has checked it out.

The Winter Film Series, James O Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery, 6.30pm Wednesdays, until July 11. Bookings to nga.gov.au

At a glance

  • June 20, “Shadowman”
  • June 27, “Gift”
  • July 4, “Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back”
  • July 11, “Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait.”
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