MARTHA: A Picture Story. Shots from the Premiere and Movie Review

MARTHA: A Picture Story. Shots from the Premiere and Movie Review

First things first – Full disclosure; we are featured in the movie and we are close friends with both the subject of the doc and the director and we first suggested to the director that she was the perfect candidate to make a film about Martha Cooper. Now that we have that out of the way here are a number of shots from the premiere and our review of the movie:

Martha Cooper. MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (photo © Nika Kramer)

Martha: A Picture Story had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this Thursday to an enthusiastic crowd that included big graffiti, Street Art, international press and film industry names, to see the highly anticipated documentary about the venerable photographer Martha Cooper by the Sydney director Selina Miles.

Selina Miles & Martha Cooper. MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (photo © Nika Kramer)

Included in the crowd were old-skool New Yorkers and a large international contingent of folks like Henry Chalfant, Doze Green, Skeme, Lee Quinones, Soten1, Carlos Mare 139, Terror 161, Kane, Dink (Baltimore), Okuda San Miguel (Spain), Faith47 (Los Angeles), Mantra (France), 1UP Crew (Germany), Nika Kramer (Germany), Roger Gastman, Lars Pederson (Denmark), Ian Cox (UK), Dean Moses… and many more. Those who didn’t attend this screening are having the opportunity to see it at three more sold-out evenings over the course of the festival.

Steven P. Harrington, Martha Cooper, and Jaime Rojo. MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (photo © Nika Kramer)

The electricity was in the air as Director Miles and producer Daniel Joyce along with the just-arrived Australian members of the “Martha” crew looked for their seats in the Village East Cinema. After a brief introduction by Miles, who told the audience that the film had been a great pleasure to make, the curtain went up to reveal the mother of the superstar art twins Os Gemeos on the big screen. She is sitting at her kitchen table in São Paulo remarking how her boys used to draw on everything, including fruit, and how Cooper and Chalfant’s 1984 book “Subway Art” changed their lives forever. With their story as a backbone for the film, the theme of personal transformation is repeated in a hundred large and small ways for the next hour and twenty minutes.

Martha Cooper with Faith47. MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (photo © Nika Kramer)

Spanning nearly all of Ms. Cooper’s 75 years, including a photo at age 3 with a camera in hand from her father Ben and uncle Harry’s Baltimore camera store, “Martha” successfully identifies the underlying driving forces, the unique personality and intellectual traits, and the milestones that propelled the photographer across scenes, subcultures, cities, and continents.

While Cooper is most often identified as a crucial documentarian of the 1970s and early 1980s graffiti-writing scene in New York, with “Subway Art” considered a global holy book of preservation that inspired thousands of artists worldwide, the film is judiciously clear that the photographer has had an anthropologists’ zeal for documenting much more over her multi-decade career.

Okuda San Miguel being interviewed by Susanne Lingemann for German TV ZDF. MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (photo © Nika Kramer)

During and after the film you don’t know who you are most impressed with – the director, Martha, the communities touched, the history and stories that are preserved with such care and respect.

“Martha” captures important and character-molding biographical events  – like her work in the Peace Corps in Thailand, a subsequent motorcycle trip from there to the UK, her investigations of tattoo techniques in Tokyo, and her work as the first “girl” photographer at the New York Post. During the film’s nearly magical depiction of Cooper’s first meeting with New York graffiti king Dondi, those in the audience who knew this story broke out into spontaneous applause.

The film isn’t shy about the low points and struggles of Cooper, like her repeated attempts to work at National Geographic, the continuous rejections of “Subway Art” by publishers, her loss of money by its initial disappointing sales, and the high-sniffing artworld classism of a clueless gallerist who unsuccessfully tries to dash her hopes of being recognized for her truest and most human work.

Jaime Rojo being interviewed by Susanne Lingemann for German TV ZDF. MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (photo © Nika Kramer)

You are gently led to take that journey with great interest as well, finally arriving at the mid-2000s European promotional tour for her book Hip Hop Files where Cooper suddenly realizes the impact that “Subway Art” has had on graffiti artists worldwide. Building on that enthusiastic response from new-found fans of her work she jumps back into street photography just as the Street Art scene is exploding.

Despite such a complex story Miles is able to coax out many significant truths in character development along with their infinite shadings, facts and nuances of the story.

Susanne Lingemann from German TV ZDF with Martha Cooper. MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (photo © Nika Kramer)

With interviews, testimonials, unseen home footage from Cooper’s ex-husband and excerpts from soft-news TV stories of the 1980s, viewers may gain a greater understanding of the sacrifice, dogged determination, and her sixth sense for capturing images that the subject exhibits. Keeping a quick pace aided by a smart soundtrack, pertinent graphic elements, and sharp editing, Miles finds ingenious ways to educate us about the various milieu Cooper worked with and the vicissitudes she had to overcome.

The additional layers of visual language infuse so many aspects of the story – a collaging of words, music, precise editing, intuitive pairings and lyrical, witty storytelling that lands in a pitch-perfect way.

Featured subject in the film, former New York Post and National Geographic photo editor Susan Welchman displaying her ticket. MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (photo © Nika Kramer)

In the end you realize Coopers’ underlying credo of taking pictures is about shedding light on people, their lives, their amazing ingenuity in the face of difficulty, their ability to rise above their environment as well as the artists techniques of art-making.

Careful observers will also be struck by the scenes of quiet moments that remain still for a few seconds to reveal deeper feeling – a remarkable glimpse of the filmmaker’s intuitive grasp of the life path and its trials. It’s those in-between places of luminosity that are revelatory, and the human gestures she lets the camera linger upon allow the viewer to write small essays inside their head, bearing witness.

Susan Welchman, Martha Cooper, and Kathryn Mikesell at the after-party. MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (photo © Nika Kramer)

With gratitude and respect to Director Miles and her whole film crew whom have worked thousands of hours over the past 2 and half years, we know that the graffiti/Street Art/photography scenes have been given a huge gift; almost as big a gift as Martha herself.

Martha Cooper stands up to take a cell phone shot of Director Selina Miles as she introduces the premiere film about Cooper. MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (photo © Steven P. Harrington)
Kathryn Mikesell, Martha Cooper and Jaime Rojo. MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (photo © Nika Kramer)
DJ Jazzy Jay at the after-party performs in front a 1982 photo Ms. Cooper took of him with his audience. MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (photo © Nika Kramer)
Steven P. Harrington, Youri Mantra, Martha Cooper, and Jay Edlin (Terror 161) at the after-party. MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (photo © Nika Kramer)
Martha…where are you going next? MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Selina Miles and producer Daniel Joyce with the film’s crew along with artists, friends featured in the film. Red carpet photo call. MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (photo © Nika Kramer)
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MARTHA: A Picture Story. World Premiere Today at TriBeCa (Video Teaser)

MARTHA: A Picture Story. World Premiere Today at TriBeCa (Video Teaser)

After two and a half years of intense filming, editing, and researching, Director Selina Miles will share her story of iconic photographer Martha Cooper on the big screen tonight at the World Premiere of “Martha: A Picture Story”.

A culmination of talents and passion from two great women in the graffiti-Street Art world, the film has been selected to screen in competition at the famed and respected TriBeCa Film Festival in New York City.

In the case of Ms. Cooper, it is a fascinating insight behind the scenes of the life of a person with a determined intellect and uncanny timing. You get a true sense of her focus and passion as she marches above and below the streets and the globe over more than five decades with camera in hand eager to discover and document. Only a director like Miles can tell the story like this, her sixth sense for detail and nuance driving her to the roots of a complex tale, complimented by her savvy ability for precisely timed editing and sound that keeps the viewer on pace for a story that takes many turns.

The first of four screenings (the newest added due to public demand) takes place today at the sold-out premiere.

Click HERE to read our interview with Martha and Selina.

All images here © “Martha: A Picture Story” 2019

Below are the screenings and times:

8:45 PM – THU 4/25Village East Cinema

8:00 PM – FRI 4/26Regal Cinemas Battery Park

9:30 PM – TUE 4/30Village East Cinema

3:45 PM – WED 5/1Village East Cinema

Click HERE to find out if tickets are still available.

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Christian Omodeo on “The Man Who Stole Banksy” & Its Streaming Release

Christian Omodeo on “The Man Who Stole Banksy” & Its Streaming Release

In 2007 the anonymous graffiti artist Banksy painted a series of political works around Palestine.

Later there was a mad scramble by people to cut them down and to sell them to the highest bidder on a secretive and clandestine art market. One mural in particular that depicts an Israeli soldier asking a donkey for its papers created a furious response from many. It also sparked its removal – and eventual offer for sale.

The Man Who Stole Banksy. (photo © Marco Proserpio)

An unexpected and riveting tale told through the perspective of a local taxi driver named Walid, the offending wall becomes the main character; shuffled through chaotic Bethlehem streets, ferried across the sea, featured at auction, brandished for collectors. The prejudices, perspectives, and startling insights on display never stop revealing themselves. Needless to say war, pacifism, greed, celebrity, fanboy-ism and occupation all make very awkward partners – providing an endless study in contrasts.

The Man Who Stole Banksy. (still from the movie)

“One year after we saw it debut at Tribeca, The Man who Stole Banksy is enjoying a far wider distribution beginning this month through Amazon Prime in US and Canada. On the occasion of its mass release, we spoke to Christian Omodeo, a professor and curator in the field of urban art. More importantly here, Omodeo was a screenwriter on the film with Filippo Perfido and the director Marco Proserpio. We asked him to reflect on the origins of the film and how as a documentary it continued to grow and mature during its long journey to the big screen, and now the small one. “

The Man Who Stole Banksy. (still from the movie)

BSA: Can you describe your role in the film, and how you watched it grow and mature?

Christian Omodeo: I first met Marco Proserpio in 2012 and we were working on this project until 2017. Marco was just back from Palestine, where by chance he met Walid, the main character of the movie. Walid told him that he had cut a Banksy painting with the intention of selling it on Ebay. Marco decided to do a movie about this crazy story.

He also wanted to describe the political situation in Palestine without portraying this community as victims as most of the media do. At the same time he did not know how to exactly deal with street art. Since that time we have worked together on the story. I carried ideas and stories that were related to Banksy’s involvement in Palestine and to the commodification of street art, while Marco was filming and looking at this story from his own point of view.

We traveled a lot and interviewed many people over a period of 5 years. In the end, we had enough footage to release 3 movies! While working on it our point-of-view on this story has totally changed. Looking at street art from a Palestinian point of view, while the Western art market was definitely consecrating it, gives you a totally different perspective on things.

The Man Who Stole Banksy

This is something that has also been fundamental for me as a curator, pushing me to a more radical attitude towards the commodification of street art. Between 2012 and 2017, while new self-proclaimed “museums” of street art were popping out everywhere, I started to think about what a museum of street art should be and if it makes sense to put street art into a museum. I was seeing many nice collections of well-hung canvases, but this way of building up a street art narrative seemed to me to be very reductive, in parallel of what we were doing within the movie.

This is how my role on this project has changed from being only an author, I became an actor in the role of the curator of the Bologna’s exhibition which became known worldwide due to the reaction of the artist Blu – who defaced his walls in the city in response. People have mainly focused on Blu’s reaction against the foundation that financed the show, without looking at what was happening inside the museum – as well as seeing the new street art narrative we were putting together.

The movie shows this story at the end, but such a topic is so powerful than it would be for the movie or another interview!

The Man Who Stole Banksy. (still from the movie)

BSA: The movie first appeared on the art film festival circuit a year ago. Now it is going to reach a far greater audience than that narrow selection of people. It more accurately mirrors the audience that street art is made for, no?

Christian Omodeo: Of course! We are happy to see the movie reaching a larger audience. This is what this movie was supposed to do since the beginning. We did not do it simply for a bunch of lazy ‘film buffs’ and festival “arty farties” as Filippo, who wrote the film with us, calls them. Unfortunately the movie industry has its own rules and once a producer and distributors come on board, you lose control of your work. Let’s hope that other platforms like Prime will distribute it in the future.

BSA: The story appears rather simple on the surface but then opens up to layers of complexity with themes of challenging power, revolution, commercialism, colonialism…  How has your perception of the film changed since you first made it?

Christian Omodeo: It has not changed at all. It’s normal to me – it took me less time and effort to discuss a Ph.D. at the Paris-Sorbonne University than to work on this movie. This is why, at the end of the process, we felt quite sure of our conclusions.

The Man Who Stole Banksy. (photo © Marco Proserpio)

What has totally changed however, it’s my personal and professional way of dealing with street art. Before my involvement with the movie, I was mostly dealing with its theoretical aspects. Today I am more focused on bringing these ideas into the real world, in taking real actions. These are things that I believe are always important to discuss. I’ve seen this clearly during some Q&A at some festivals – but we cannot just talk if we want to develop ways to work with a narrative around street art that doesn’t whitewash it. I’m working on a few projects right now. I hope to have some news soon to share.

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