USA – 2014 – 84 MIN – COLOUR - FEATURE - IN ENGLISH
A FILM BY JOHN MALOOF & CHARLIE SISKEL
A mysterious nanny, who secretly took over 100,000 photographs that were hidden in storage lockers and discovered decades later, is now considered among the 20th century’s greatest photographers. Maier’s strange and riveting life and art are revealed through never before seen photographs, films, and interviews with dozens who thought they knew her.
DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT - Charlie Siskel
We all choose what we want the world to know about us. And yet in the end we can’t help but reveal ourselves. It may be that if Vivian Maier had her choice the world would know nothing of her life or her photographs. She chose to conceal herself and hid her art during her lifetime.
But hiding one’s art is, of course, the opposite of destroying it. Maier preserved her work and left its fate to others. Like Kafka’s instructions to burn his writings unread, any wish she may have had for her work to remain unseen, either expressed or unspoken, was ignored.
Documentary filmmakers also choose the stories we want to tell. After years of sifting through Maier’s life’s work and the mountain of personal material she left behind, we made a film that tells the story of an artist who masqueraded as a nanny and whose discovery brought her overdue fame and recognition.
Maier was a kind of spy. She captured street life, often with her suburban charges in tow, recording humanity as it appeared, wherever it appeared – in stockyards, slums, and suburbia itself.
As an artist, Maier was an outsider, which made her empathic toward the marginalized people she often photographed. But her single-mindedness in pursuit of her art exacted a high price.
Maier jokingly called herself a mystery woman. She fiercely protected her privacy and asserted her independence from the bourgeois values of the families she lived with. But she may have secretly longed for the family bonds she witnessed intimately for decades, bonds that were broken in her own childhood.
Our film shows a darker side of Maier than she might have wanted others to see and darker than that which has so far been revealed. But this is only one piece of the story. Her work is now part of the history of photography and an undeniable treasure. The discovery of Maier’s work not only gave her story an ending, there would be no story without it.
DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT - John Maloof
Being raised by just my mother who barely made minimum wage her whole life forced me to be extremely resourceful at an early age. Finding thrown out junk and reselling it at flea markets had become a skill of mine. If I wanted something, I figured out a way to make it happen, with a compulsion.
In 2007, as I was writing a history book on my Chicago neighborhood, I was wondering how I would find enough old photos to illustrate the book and tried my luck at a local junk and furniture auction house. I bought a box loaded with negatives that never ended up being used for the book. However, I knew to keep them. I thought, “I’m resourceful. I’ll look at them later when I have more time.” Fast forward 2 years later; that purchase had unearthed some of the finest street photography of the 20th Century. I decided to make a film to document my journey in figuring out who took these incredible photographs.
The negatives belonged to a woman named Vivian Maier. I was given access to her belongings and tons of her odd possessions, so I started my detective work to figure out more about her. I wanted this film to follow the process of my uncovering Maier. The evidence that led me to a person who knew her and then another, and so on. But the more that was uncovered, the more questions that were raised. Would she like what I’m doing? Why did she hide her photos and her personal life from others? Who the hell is this woman? She started to seem like some mythical person.
My obsession drove us to compile a library of interviews and strange stories from across the globe. We found roughly 100 people who had contact with Vivian Maier. In the film, we let the people speak for themselves. I hope that this story comes through honest and pure, and does more than just uncover a mysterious artist but tells a story that changed the history of photography.
"'Vivian was a true artist,' says Maloof. 'She did it for herself. She didn’t do it to please other photographers or critics or a market. Seeing her photos, it’s very important to know who she was.' The author is not dead—even when she is."
- MACLEANS (Interview)
Documentary tells the story of troubled yet brilliant photographer Vivian Maier (Audio Interview)
- CBC Radio AS IT HAPPENS
“...a striking documentary…"
- THE GLOBE AND MAIL
- THE GLOBE AND MAIL (Interview)
- THE TORONTO STAR
“...a compelling portrait of an important artist who never exhibited in her own lifetime.”
- NOW MAGAZINE
"The unintended beauty of this film, and of Maier’s whole oeuvre, is that she bored a pinhole through the wall, and created a camera obscura to record her experience.”
- CBC Radio - METRO MORNING
“...a classic whodunit, and one that perfectly captures the finding of a lifetime.”
"The great thing about Maier initially was that she seemed to come out of nowhere to posthumously elbow her way near the top of the photographic class. All there was was the art – pure, mysterious, uncompromised by gossip, New Yorker profiles, tweets, visits by TV crews to her nursing home. What we knew is what she saw and we saw that it was good."
- THE GLOBE AND MAIL
NNNN "delightful and consistently intriguing"
- NOW MAGAZINE
3.5 out of 4! - "Maier in many respects remains an enigma wrapped in a mystery, but Maloof’s sensitive sleuthing brings her life into sharper focus."
- THE GLOBE AND MAIL
"A compelling untold story... It’s masterfully constructed"
First-time filmmaker John Maloof (pictured, left) and co-director Charlie Siskel (producer of Religulous, right) tell realscreen how they pieced together the story of a complex woman behind a treasure trove of street photography, in Finding Vivian Maier.
"This initially playful, ultimately haunting look at the once-secret career of street photographer Vivian Maier is an aptly obsessive study of obsession."
"Filmmaker became obsessed with Vivian Maier"
- CALGARY HERALD