Documentary is always a challenge. it’s very close range. If it’s fighting, it’s like boxing. You have to take all those punches and you have to feel the pain. You cannot hide, you expose yourself and also you have no excuse about any mistakes. So I love it because it’s so truthful and clear and direct. It’s a very honest form, as honest as it can get. So that’s why it attracts me so much. Because it requires observation, understanding and passion, it requires a lot of passion.
AI WEIWEI, interviewed at Sheffield Doc fest (June 2019)
Anyone who has been immersed in documentary filmmaking as observer or subject will definitely relate to Ai Weiwei’s commentary on this art form. The artist/activist turned more recently a filmmaker himself – but was several years ago the subject of an engaging documentary – “Ai Weiwei : Never Sorry” (Alison Klayman, 2012) . That film pulled an incredible punch in its close observation of the collision course Weiwei embarked upon taunting the Chinese authorities and blurring the lines of art and political dissent. It was also an eye-opening tale about an artist’s impact in the digital age, especially since the explosion of social media.
This brings us to our own filmmaking journey with satirical photographer/art activist Suzanne Heintz and the unexpected twists and turns we have observed following Suzanne’s immersion into an internet fueled mission using her photography for social impact, and her surreal Life Once Removed photography series with accompanying “Playing House” film shorts. We were very much drawn to Suzanne because of her subversive, defiant stance, as well as her self-depreciating humour and unbridled commitment to her ‘life’s work’ as she puts it in the film.
Over the course of this multi-year production with unrestricted access to Suzanne’s archive and video diaries we definitely witnessed the lines between life and art blurring. Our cameras have followed Heintz juggling some unbelievably tough situations and ‘real life’ challenges. Sifting through the evidence of Heintz’s almost 20 years executing her experiment in self-portraiture, what comes across is a surprisingly personal story about endurance.
From the outset, Imitating life – the audacity of Suzanne Heintz has been about crafting an intimate portrait of an unusual woman artist/art activist who is very much outside the mainstream art world. Because Heintz ‘s bizarre self portraits garnered a global viral following with their iconic mannequin aided depictions of perfect family bliss, the impact and role played by social media became an underlying theme in the film. But getting to the heart of what motivated Suzanne to go to such extreme lengths for her ‘art’ (ie, walking the streets of New York, London and Paris with a mannequin on her shoulders) – was why we wanted to make the film.
Hopefully, audiences will find something that resonates with their own life experiences from our candid access very much behind the scenes. When we glimpse into moments of ‘as it happened’ its a reminder of the powerful nature of documentary as an art form -capturing undisguised ‘true’ moments. Because this is “as honest as it can get” per Ai Weiwei.