The Art Star and the Sudanese Twin

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Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- New Zealand filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly takes on a fascinating subject in "The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins," which is competing in the world documentary category at Sundance.

The art star of the title is Vanessa Beecroft, who specializes in trendy photo collages, often involving nude women arrayed in provocative poses. While gallery owners gush about her innovative approach, viewers can't help asking if there's an exploitative element to her work, and this question carries over to the central issue in the film.

On a trip to the Sudan to photograph refugees, Beecroft discovers a pair of infant twins whose mother died. She becomes obsessed with the idea of adopting them and bringing them back to New York, where she lives with her husband, an anthropologist.

The film follows Beecroft over the course of 16 months, surveying her art shows as well as her visits to Africa as she negotiates to adopt the twins. But as her husband, Greg Durkin, asks pointedly, is she motivated by humanitarian impulses, or is she mesmerized by the exotic allure of underprivileged orphans? Has she been inspired by celebrities like Angelina Jolie? In short, does her attraction to the twins have the same exploitative element visible in her art? Photographs of her nursing the two black infants certainly inspire a queasy reaction in viewers.

To the film's credit, it retains a measure of sympathy for Vanessa even as it questions her motives. Brettkelly obviously earned the trust of her subject, for she was able to include interviews with Beecroft's divorced parents, her Italian mother and British father. In fact, the artist's own fractured childhood clearly had something to do with her interest in rescuing the twins and giving them a stable home life.

The film is sharply edited by Irena Dol, and the scenes in Africa, strikingly photographed by Jacob Bryant, have impressive scope. Yet despite its craftsmanship and candor, the film ends as something of a disappointment.

For one thing, questions about the adoption and about Beecroft's troubled marriage are left unresolved. The bureaucratic challenges to the adoption prove more formidable than Beecroft imagined, so we're left without a clear conclusion.

It probably would have taken a few more years of filming to have answered the most pertinent question: Can this kind of celebrity adoption work out satisfyingly for either parents or children? It's possible that the director never really made up her own mind about the implications of Beecroft's art or her parenting impulses.

"Art Star" is a provocative undertaking with a fascinating cast of characters, but it leaves us seeking answers that the filmmaker refuses to provide.

THE ART STAR AND THE SUDANESE TWINS
RingTheJing Entertainment Ltd.
Credits:
Director-Producer: Pietra Brettkelly
Director of photography: Jacob Bryant
Music: Anika Moa
Editor: Irena Dol
Running time -- 95 minutes
No MPAA rating

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