Posted on Jul 21, 2013
5 out of 5
Damon Lee Patterson’s “Art Saved My Life” is a beautiful film — and its Friday night world premiere at the Crown Center theater was a perfect way to start my 2013 Fringe Festival experience. You really ought to make it a highlight of yours.
Patterson introduced this first theatrical screening with a simple statement of his democratic intention in making this lovely, loving film: “…for you and everyone to know you have the talent to do what you need to in life.” And if art saves, why might we need saving? Because “we tend to ignore who we are as human beings.” His fifteen primary subjects help us understand the arts as a path to making life worth living.
“Art Saved My Life” Is basically a “talking-head” documentary — a description often used to damn the genre as boring. Miraculously, Patterson has avoided this trap. These fifteen heads — 21, if you count the group that appears in the film’s closing minutes — are beautifully framed and shot. He’s managed to make all the mechanics of his filmmaking disappear. It’s as if there was no camera there at all, and no sign of any “interviewing”: everyone’s eyes sparkle as facial nuance and expressive gesture reveal unique intelligence in short, but rich, revealing, intimate visits — mainly just 3-5 minutes. Each head — and all the talk — is rooted in a great big heart. And it’s the heart that shines in art.
Patterson credits himself only as “cinematographer,” but his editing has made what might be an ungainly, abstract subject into a jewel worthy of our appreciation. Moving from speaker to speaker, with samples of work here and there, a kind of collective essay emerges: illustrator Shane Evans talks about finding power in creation, honoring the reality of what we say and feel; Lonnie McFadden’s neighborhood was lost to a freeway, and his neighbors to jail, but his father’s tap dancing helped him find music; the Marching Falcons’ Justin Black carries us into the realm of community, as a place to gain and give back good experience; Sheila E celebrates the power to dream and hope and write things down; Tech N9ne speaks of “strange music” in finding the help our world needs; Moses Brings Plenty speaks of aligning ourselves with spiritual beauty in the world; Lovey Jane Van Benthusen invites us to bring a more colorful palette to our palate; musician Brian Kennedy too speaks of “technicolor,” from what he first found in a church basement; Theresa Goodman testifies to healing through movement; muralist Alexander Austin finds a weapon in a pencil; jazz artist Bobby Watson speaks of connecting beyond words and finding forms and discipline to meet our goals; Natasha Ria El-Scari speaks movingly of a poem as a place to cry, and to find a God that moves within, not without; Scott Harlan Brownlee balances bromides of “economic impact” with bringing people together and transforming community; songwriter Nicolette Paige finds ways to reach out to others from what feels most deeply personal; and Luna Breeze Blakeman (who knew there was a hula hoop artist?) speaks for the process of collaboration in creativity. We wind up standing with a group of women atop Cohikia Mound, feeling like we’ve just entered into a tradition worth celebrating ourselves.
In a fast hour, a rangy subject has been brought to fully human life. And here we have the essence of what these fifteen saved artists — speaking to and for us all — have to say. Nobody here got pulled off an ice floe by some passing artist: the film might be titled “Art Made My Life.” But there have been many invocations of sickness, isolation, whole neighborhoods lost and neighbors in jail, addiction, sadness — all escaped by attention to what otherwise might be ignored.
In the end, Patterson’s casting has made this film, and we in the audience complete it. Each of his subjects implicitly and explicitly makes us a part of a human community that’s much larger — all because of art. Join us by seeing this film!