Hot Docs 2014: Art and Craft – Documentary Review

Director: Jennifer Grausman, Sam Cullman
Country: USA
Runtime: 89 minutes
Rating: 14A

Documentaries have the tendency to record events that most would consider unpleasant or dramatic, and although there is quite a plethora of documentaries that deal with cheerful and inspiring stories, the medium is mostly associated with serious, somber themes. Art and Craft is one of those documentaries whose story doesn’t even seem to be able to exist in actuality. With quite an enigmatic character at its centre, the film demonstrates that sometimes reality can be as whimsical as it can be tragic.

Art and Craft

For decades, Mark Landis has been forging works of art in the most prolific manner. He has also donated his creations to numerous museums across the United States, which, due to Landis’s talent, and their lack of proper safety precautions, have been duped into believing that the art they were receiving was indeed authentic. The documentary follows Landis as he goes about his everyday life, watching television, forging paintings, and being persecuted by Matt Leininger, a past registrar in the Cincinnati Art Museum, who after discovering Landis and his false art has made it his mission to uncover him and reveal his intentions to as many museums as possible.

The documentary is, to put it simply, delightful. It is not every day that one hears about an art forger, and despite the fact that Landis’s story has received a significant amount of media attention, his story is still obscure enough to cause awe in the viewer, especially since it all sounds like it would belong in a fiction film. The documentary does a very good job of not judging Landis, and the viewer is left to form their own opinions on him. Despite the disapproval many of the people interviewed feel towards Landis’s work, the information that is provided of Landis to the viewer really doesn’t allow for any conclusions to be drawn, since Landis mainly just seems like a solitary man who finds comfort in doing what he does best, even if it is considered extremely unethical by most.

AC2

Formally, the documentary is quite stylish in editing and sound, using a soundtrack that keeps the air of mischief inside the piece. The kind of cinematic effect the soundtrack causes seems to suit Landis quite well, as it is obvious that he himself has been deeply inspired and influenced by characters and situations in motion pictures. This flare, however, does not make the documentary sensationalist; it merely accessorizes a story that is quite provoking on its own.

In a sense, Art and Craft is supremely enjoyable not only because it triumphs as a documentary, but because its theme seems so far from reality. Although all the events depicted are entirely true, there is some sort of mysticism surrounding the story of an art forger that can make the imagination of the spectator wonder. Mark Landis himself is proof of this, since no facts can be drawn about him or his person from what is seen in the film. He keeps to himself and seems to know something about how to make life a little more special. The documentary is terribly inspiring, and no matter what conclusions the spectator comes to about Landis and the legitimacy of his work, there will be an undeniable piece of wonder that will live on in the minds of all who get to experience the film.

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