Altina Schinasi, (1907 – 1999), was a paradox. Simultaneously seductive and reserved, her sheltered upbringing was in sharp contrast to the bold sexuality of her artwork, and she created a fashion sensation in the 1930s with her design for Harlequin eyeglasses. Altina is an affecting, provocative, and richly informative documentary about an American trendsetter–a woman before her time.

Free of academic constraints and confident in her keen intellect, she crafted fragments of her life into sculptures that defined her surreal and original world. Her whimsical art was also anchored in social issues: her film on George Grosz took on the Holocaust, earning her an Oscar nomination and winning her the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. She befriended Martin Luther King Jr. and supported his struggle. And during the Red Scare, she did not hesitate to hide John Berry–who was blacklisted for having directed a documentary on the Hollywood Ten–in her Beverly Hills home. As a sculptor, her most original creations were called “chairacters.” Exuding Altina’s unencumbered feminist sexuality, these large, almost life-size chairs and benches depicted lovers in passionate embrace or turning away from each other to express the absence of love.