Wednesday, February 20 kicked off the 10th anniversary of the Reel Artists Film Festival (RAFF) at TIFF Bell Lightbox. North America’s only festival of documentary films about visual art and artists, RAFF offered a glimpse into the complex personalities and intense passions of some of the world’s most compelling artists. From the experimental process, to challenges of expression and understanding, to feats of creativity – the selection of international feature-length and short documentaries expose an intimate and often unseen side of visual art and their creators.
On the opening night it was a treat to sit down with internationally acclaimed director Megumi Sasaki prior to her screening of Herb & Dorothy 50×50. Though only an excerpted version, the remarkable story of Herbert and Dorothy Vogel – a postal worker and schoolteacher who managed to amass one of the largest and most prolific collections of minimalist and conceptual art in North America – was wonderfully told. “[The Vogel’s] have an amazing, amazing story, not just as art collectors, but it’s a story of love, of passion, that really teaches us what their life is about,” Sasaki tells me.
The Vogel’s managed to squeeze their collection of over 4,000 pieces into their one-bedroom, rent controlled apartment in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. After 30-years of collecting they transferred their entire collection over to the National Gallery of Art in 1992, and then in 2008, launched The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States, donating 50 works of art to 50 museums in each of the United States.
“We started collecting in 1962, when we got married. It was his idea but I got into it through him,” Vogel says. “It feels good to have this piece to remember my husband. He died in July and I want people to remember what he did.”
Herb & Dorothy 50×50 was just one example of the brilliant films that defined RAFF as well as the subjects that it covered. Some other standouts at the festival included Tea, a documentation of Mexican artist Mario Garcia Torres’ journey to the legendary One Hotel in Afghanistan and his relationship with Italian conceptual artist Alighiero Boetti who ran the hotel in the 1970s. Damien Hirst: Thoughts, Work, Life is a portrait of the English artist in which he discusses his inspirations and experiences leading up to the reaction of his famous works For the Love of God, a cast human skull covered with over 8,500 diamonds, rumored to value £50,000,000. Somewhere to Disappear follows Alec Soth, internationally acclaimed photographer, as he travels across America with his camera to shoot men to have retreated from mainstream society.
The most unique element to RAFF is how it provokes the audience to think about the artists mind at work, rather than just the final product. “People can relate to film,” says Ann Webb, RAFF Founder and Executive Director of the Canadian Art Foundation and Publisher of Canadian Art Magazine. “Some people think there’s an intimidation factor about art and I think this is a very accessible way to learn about art and artists.”
After 10 years and over 150 films screened, RAFF will continue to provide audiences with an intimate excerpt into the life and work of some of the most important idea makers in the art world.