SFIFF 2014: Documentary Picks

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Art and Craft

From Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman, and Mark Becker comes a fascinating look into the life and work of notorious art forger Mark Landis, who, for over 30 years, has duped museums across the country into accepting phony paintings. The secret to such a long career? Landis doesn’t sell; he donates (often in the name of his made-up deceased sister’s estate), so the FBI and irate curators everywhere are powerless to prosecute him for what he considers “philanthropy.” Opposite Landis, the filmmakers consult Matthew Leininger, a former registrar obsessed with seeking revenge on the forger. Yet with all his personal issues (schizophrenia, alcoholism, and a Norman Bates-like obsession with his late mother, to name a few), Landis always looms front and center. A talented artist who can replicate everything from Peanuts sketches to portraits from Picasso’s blue period, you wouldn’t be the first to wonder why Landis doesn’t simply create original artwork.

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Burt’s Buzz

Ever pondered the identity of the bearded man in the fisherman’s cap on the trademark honey-colored labels of the multi-million dollar natural skin care product line? In his documentary Burt’s Buzz, Jody Shapiro travels to the far reaches of Maine to track down the elusive Burt Shavitz, a man in his late seventies who, despite being recognized all over the world, describes his unlikely story as “evolutionary, not revolutionary.” As intriguing a subject as Shavitz is (as his iconic likeness suggests, he lives in the middle of nowhere with his dog and no hot water), the most fascinating aspect of the documentary is the dichotomy it presents between him and co-founder Roxanne Quimby, whom he first met decades ago when she was a struggling single mother of two. Perhaps no one will truly know the nature of their falling out, but Shapiro presents enough pieces for viewers to interpret it as they will. What remains is the stark binary American Dream of Shavitz, who left behind a successful photojournalism career in New York City seeking a simpler life and discovered beekeeping, on one side of the coin, and Quimby, a free entrepreneurial spirit who wound up a millionaire, on the other.

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Soul Food Stories

In remote Bulgaria lies Satovcha, a small community of a village where Orthodox Christians, Muslim Turks, gypsies, and Communist atheists coexist. Going from church to church and household to household, director Tonislav Hristov attempts to transcend ideological boundaries by pushing the traditions, customs and identities that revolve around food. While Soul Food Stories doesn’t always deliver on this premise, it provides a deliciously vibrant snapshot of a community bound by a fractured past. In the kitchen and at the dining table, the residents of Satovcha let loose about history, politics and culture, spouting commentary that is oftentimes more scrumptious than the actual meal.

— Misa Shikuma

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