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Tribeca ’10 | Art & Tragedy in Willis’ Doc Competition Film, “The Woodmans”

Tribeca '10 | Art & Tragedy in Willis' Doc Competition Film, "The Woodmans"

In director C. Scott Willis’ Tribeca World Documentary Feature Competition film, “The Woodmans,” a family’s turn with tragedy and art comes is in the spotlight.

The Woodmans is an inspiring portrait of one family’s fall and redemption in the often brutal world of art. Family patriarch George is a professor and painter. Wife and mother Betty is a ceramicist who earns her own show at The Met. Charlie, their son, is a video artist. Most highly regarded is Francesca, their daughter, one of the late 20th century’s most recognized photographers, whose fame came after a tragedy that would forever scar the family.

Through candid interviews with George, Betty, Charlie, and a host of friends we come to understand how significant the importance of art-making has been to this family. Francesca’s work emerges in a highly developed way at a very early age. Through the creative use of her journal entries, experimental videos, and dynamic photographs, director C. Scott Willis brings us into the life of this young artist in a very intimate, visceral, and tragic way. His debut feature documentary is an original and extraordinary work that plumbs the depths of what it truly means to be an artist. [Description provided by Tribeca Film Festival].

“The Woodmans”
Director: C. Scott Willis
Producers: Neil Barrett, Jeff Werner, C. Scott Willis
Editor: Jeff Werner
Director of Photography: Neil Barrett
Composer: David Lang
Creative Consultants: Michael Bowles, Rachel Goslins
Score Performed by: So Percussion
82 min; Feature Documentary; World Premiere

Director C. Scott Willis talks about his filmmaking background and how he “stumbled” onto the Woodmans’ story…

My filmmaking comes from a background in journalism, and for most of my career I have produced and directed investigative stories about global issues and institutions for broadcast on the small screen. So I confess to being more comfortable working in the world of “armed conflict.” Stepping out of that odd comfort zone to tell a story about “emotional conflict” and then framing that story for the big screen has been one of the most frightening and most satisfying professional experiences I have had.

Six years ago I met Betty and George Woodman at a cousin’s loft in New York and literally stumbled into their story. I mentioned that I had a daughter who was studying photography at RISD and they said their daughter had studied there too. Not knowing about Francesca’s tragic history, I asked if our daughters could meet. An extraordinarily moving conversation ensued. And afterwards, when I looked up Francesca’s photography, I couldn’t think of any other story I would rather tell.

I always thought of “The Woodmans” as a sort of “anti-verite” film. Instead of placing the camera in the middle of the action we backed the camera up so you could take in and examine the context and beauty of Betty and George Woodman’s world. And instead of constructing a narrative meant to trigger a reaction, I just wanted it to provoke thought. I hope it’s a film that stays with you for a while after you leave the theater.

…and approaching the challenges…

My biggest challenge was to learn to listen for the story. Candidly, I think a lot of documentarians (myself included) tend to find a story, research it, get comfortable with it, build a thesis around it ,and then go and essentially film that argument. For me “The Woodmans” was an exercise in patience. It was shot over three years and the story demanded that it reveal itself. I honestly didn’t know what the film was going to be until we made the last edit. It’s tough to get funding with that as your synopsis.

Art has the power both to hurt and to heal. “My Architect” was an extraordinary documentary that showed that, and I think I always hoped that “The Woodmans” should try to be that good. In “My Architect,” the emotional story of a son’s search for his father was used to reveal something about architecture most people would never stop to think about. In that way, I hope the Woodman Family story can illuminate something about the creative process and a life spent in pursuit of art that the audience might not have considered.

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