Philanthropy, mental health, and art forgery all take center stage in Sam Cullman’s and Jennifer Grausman’s documentary “Art and Craft.” It’s not just about money for Mark Landis, the orchestrater of a 30-year con, and this exploration is a multi-layered look beyond art alone.
Tell us about yourselves:
Cullman: I grew up in New York City, the child of a movie buff mother and a sporty dad. Their passions rubbed off on me, but I always thought I’d be painter. When I picked up my first video camera in my senior year of college things changed dramatically.
Grausman: A native New Yorker, I grew up aspiring to work in the art world. And after studying art history in undergrad, I worked in fundraising at my favorite museum – MoMA. While I was there though, I realized that what I really wanted to do was make movies and so I went to film school at Columbia, imagining I would work in the fiction feature world. After graduating, I began working in production, but soon thereafter I jumped into making a documentary, yet another new world to me. Three years later I completed directing Pressure Cooker with Mark Becker. I decided to go back to writing and working in narrative film and I honestly didn’t know if I would make another documentary until I read the article about Mark Landis in the NY Times and couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Biggest challenge in completing this project? There were many challenges in completing this project from a both producing and directing standpoint. Conceptually, we had a strong narrative arc once Matthew Leininger began to realize his dream of organizing an exhibition of Mark Landis forgeries. But we also had two main characters who spent most of their time at home alone. Landis in particular rarely went out into the world when he wasn’t on a so-called “philanthropic binge.” So we really had to think creatively about how to open up the story in production and then later in post with editor and co-director Mark Becker. With Landis – a man who is obsessed with Turner Classic Movies – we were able to create a fluid visual and narrative language with the movies and television that he religiously watches and references. In this way, we could travel visually and narratively, even if Landis himself wasn’t leaving his cluttered apartment. This poetic license works on several levels given that Landis occasionally sees himself as an actor when he ventures out as “the philanthropist” donating his forgeries to museums.
What films have inspired you?
Cullman: CADDYSHACK was my first experience at the movies. I was just about four at the time (my parents didn’t believe in “age-appropriate”). It was the Baby Ruth scene that hooked me to the communal experience of cinema. I’ll never forget the collective anticipation (Jaws music!), the gasp (Hazmat suits!), and then the flat-out eruption of laughter when Bill Murray figures it all out… After that I pledged allegiance to feature film — until my early 20s that is, when I was introduced to classic verité docs like DON’T LOOK BACK and the more complex hybrids that followed, like HEARTS AND MINDS. My eyes were opened to a whole new language and my life was forever changed.
Grausman: Too many to name, but my earliest film memories are of going to the Regency Theatre to see REAR WINDOW and VERTIGO with my Dad when I was six. A little early for Hitchcock, but my mother was busy with my new baby sister and I was happy for father-daughter movies followed by egg creams. A little later it was ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN and then ANNIE HALL. But my taste is eclectic and narrative centered – everything from FLETCH to 400 BLOWS and CASABLANCA to RUSHMORE. A few other favorites in no particular order: CHINATOWN, SABRINA (the original), HIS GIRL FRIDAY, TOGETHER, DAZED AND CONFUSED, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, LOST IN TRANSLATION, WALKING AND TALKING, MANHATTAN, BRING IT ON, THE BIG SLEEP, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, BREATHLESS, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, I AM CUBA and DON’T LOOK BACK.
What’s in the works?
Cullman: I have a few doc ideas percolating, but it’s really too soon to share them. My 16-month old daughter, Savitri, has inspired one in particular — but in the short-term, I’m looking forward to shooting again on other people’s films and sneaking in more time with her and my family. Filmmaking takes you into amazing worlds, but also can take you away from the people you love. It’ll be nice to take a moment to hit the reset button.
Grausman: I have the beginnings of some new doc ideas but also have a romantic comedy script to finish and a few TV specs I’m writing. I’m also looking forward to spring.