My Kid Could Paint That
Time Out says
It all started in a coffee shop in Binghamton, New York State in 2004. When word emerged that the swirly paintings on the walls were by Mark Olmstead’s four-year-old daughter Marla, the local newspaper had its story. An exhibition in a local gallery followed, the national press started sniffing, prices for the works escalated, and soon Maria was on the top TV current affairs strand ‘60 Minutes’. Could a smiley tot really have produced the pictures? Are they as good as Jackson Pollock or Kandinsky or AN Other modern artist? If so, what does that say about standards of judgement in the multi-million-dollar art market? By which point, documentarist Amir Bar-Lev gained the confidence of the Olmstead family, and hoped to tell the story from the inside…
The result is utterly fascinating, not so much for its filmmaking polish (it’s pretty functional), but because the people and the material fan out so many tantalising questions. Whether Maria’s supposedly innate painterly gifts can actually be captured on camera becomes a hot issue for everyone, not least because it would ease suspicions her dad had a guiding hand in the canvasses. Director Bar-Lev muses on the idea that by filming someone you’re changing them, imposing your narrative on their truth, a fundamental notion which so-called factual cinema too often leaves unconsidered. Arguably, his film exploits little Maria as much as everyone else who made a buck out of her. But it’s bigger than that: a sceptical portrait of a conflicted family riding a media whirlwind, and a quizzical recognition of the limits of certitude when it comes to the glorious squiggles of a Paul Klee…. or a Marla Olmstead.