Red Birds Dir. Brigitte Cornand

[Les Films Du Siamois; 2009]

Styles: documentary, special interest
Others: Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, The Cats of Mirikitani, Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens

Brigitte Cornand’s Red Birds features a wonderful premise, a device to create an analogue between the freedom and individuality of her favorite female artists, and the natural freedom and beauty embodied by her favorite birds. According to Cornand, she was struck with the idea for the film while living near New York City. After obsessively shooting video of birds in Central Park and along the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, she realized that these birds represented the spirit and creative joie de vivre of her female artist friends. Thus, she began to pair footage of these birds with audio from the many interviews she conducted with these avant-garde artists. But while it might seem like an awesome experiment in documentary technique, the film tends to drag on and, without the benefit of context, seems almost pointless.

The unifying theme that runs throughout Red Birds is the construction of womanhood and how it has informed the artistic output of several important 20th-century female artists. To prepare for her documentary, Cornand, who is no stranger to the fine-arts world, spent quite a bit of time interviewing her friends, presumably to try and create a portrait of this unique feminine perspective and influence on art. This endeavor is a noble one, and so far hasn’t been significantly examined in pop culture. Unfortunately, rather than breaking new ground, Cornand’s documentary turns out to be a somewhat confusing and random assortment of banal musings on the artistic spirit.

Focusing on the intersections between their lives and their art, Cornand’s interviews with her beloved female artists — the most recognizable among them being Pat Steir, Carolee Schneermann, and Louise Bourgeois — will surely appeal to those already familiar with these artists’ unique contributions to the art world. It can be insightful to hear about how their respective media were affected by their formative experiences as women in a post-industrial Western society, but lacking any background info, the film can only hope to appeal to those who already benefit from a working knowledge of the artists in question. Without this context, the viewer is left wondering exactly what the point of these interviews might be.

While viewing footage of birds matched to the voices of influential artists could be enjoyable on a certain level, the film’s stated goal of creating a vivid portrait of female creativity is never met, leaving the documentary with an unfinished feel. The end result is a celebratory sketch of her favorite artists, a love note to the beauty and individuality of her friends, and an homage to the wonders of avian nature. For those who already appreciate the featured artists, it will surely be a treat, but for those without the benefit of an understanding of the artists profiled in the documentary, Red Birds will only offer confusion.

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