Making art is more than a pastime, a hobby or even a career, as shown in the emotional family profile The Woodmans. "Art is a very high priority," says painter-photographer and father George, "...you don't mess around." It's the lure that drew him, in the 1950s, to his hardworking wife, Betty, a ceramicist, turning them into one of those lovably intense couples that discusses process. It's what made them raise two extremely liberated children, the latter of whom, Francesca, would go to RISD, make beautiful photographs in the 1970s, flail delicately at rejection and take her own life in 1981. And evidently, it's what's helped the Woodmans move through that loss.
Nightline vet Scott Willis doesn't demean his subjects, nor does he pretend to explain the enormity of their tragedy, and for that, his doc has gotten some praise. But by trying so hard not to judge them, he does so, in a far subtler way that won't be lost on regular audiences: Francesca, swirling in her spooky body art and superimposed diary text, is presented like some sadly lost genius, not like the vaguely pretentious young person (with enormous needs) she was. Her parents dither on, quietly, about her work, and you want to scream at their ignorance. If The Woodmans has something profound to say---and it does, unwittingly---it's that art can't raise a child solo.