Finding Vivian Maier
An amusing, poignant and disturbing documentary about a talented and secretive street photographer
By turns amusing, poignant and disturbing, this documentary investigation into the work and life of the previously unknown but now posthumously-celebrated street photographer is never less than thoroughly intriguing. Looking for some visual material to illustrate an urban history book project about the Chicago neighbourhood he grew up in, co-director John Maloof (here working in collaboration with Michael Moore's regular producer, Charlie Siskel) chanced upon a big box of photo negatives being sold off for peanuts in a local thrift sale. Maloof was astonished to discover a treasure trove of images taken on the streets of 50s and 60s America which were as accomplished as the work of the nation's greatest 20th century photographers. Intrigued, Maloof began researching the woman responsible for the pictures and found they were only a fraction of a hoard of 100,000 images boxed up and lying forgotten in a storage facility. Spurred on by this revelation, he decided to make a documentary film about his investigation into the life of Vivian Maier.
That Maier turned out to be a mystery woman who went to great lengths to conceal the details of her life only further motivated Maloof, and what he found makes for riveting viewing. Without giving too much away, for much of the pleasure of the film lies in the succession of revelations about its subject, Maloof and Siskel discovered Maier moonlighted as a photographer while working a day job as a nanny. Much of what we subsequently learn comes through interviews with Maier's former wards, all of whom note how private she was. Which raises an ethical question about her life being documented through this film. The filmmakers address that question, but, perhaps wholly appropriately, they are ultimately unable to provide a full portrait of their secretive subject. What they have done however is bring a startling artistic talent to the attention of the public.
Screened as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2014. Selected release from Fri 18 Jul.