Finding Vivian Maier
“We all choose what we want the world to know about us. And yet in the end we can’t help but reveal ourselves.” So says Charlie Siskel, co-director of Finding Vivian Maier – a film that explores this concept with unexpectedly moving results.
Siskel directed the documentary in partnership with John Maloof, and it concerns itself with the latter’s self-proclaimed mission to write unknown nanny and amateur street photographer Vivian Maier into the history books, after chancing upon her work in 2007. The film serves as both the bold proclamation of an incredible talent, and as a detective adventure following Maloof’s quest to solve the enigma of Maier’s life. The primary question here is why such a prolific and gifted artist chose never to share that gift.
Maier’s masterful work is showcased to breathtaking effect. Her knack for elevating the lowly, the domestic and the humdrum to art is something to behold. Viewing these incredible images in the dark, on the big screen, and accompanied by J Ralph’s beautiful score, has the effect of searing them into the memory. It would be difficult to come away from the film as anything other than a firm fan of Vivian Maier, and with one’s own list of favourite photographs.
Aside from the marvellous slideshow, Finding Vivian Maier pieces together the story of its subject through Maloof’s interviews with dozens of those who knew her, as well as her own 8mm film footage and – most poignantly – audio recordings. To say too much would be to spoil the thrill of unravelling for oneself the mysteries at hand, but suffice to say that the story spans both the globe and a whole spectrum of human emotion. Particularly powerful are the testimonies of former childhood charges of Maier the nanny, with each obviously touched by her influence.
Dealing as it does with a life of such unfulfilled potential means that there is an inescapable sadness to the film (it’s no secret that Maier passed away in obscurity; there’s no Searching for Sugar Man-style carnival of redemption here). Yet there is fulfilment of a sort to be found in the fact that, through watching, the viewer forms almost as close a bond with Maier as anyone did in her lifetime. The dilemma surrounding what Maier herself would have made of all this attention just adds further depth to a film that fulfils its makers’ aims with compelling aplomb.
Finding Vivian Maier is released nationwide on 18th July 2014.
Watch the trailer for Finding Vivian Maier here: