Filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly on artist Vanessa Beecroft's new quest in the Sudan

How could I not do a post on an amazing artist like this......

Quoted from V magazine;

In March of 2006 I traveled with Vanessa Beecroft to Rumbek in South Sudan on two separate occasions to produce an image for her latest project, VBSS. Vanessa asked me to produce a painterly, Madonna-esque image of her wearing a custom-made dress by Maison Martin Margiela burned at the hem. There were two slit openings for her breasts in order to nurse two orphaned Sudanese twins. Vanessa was and is trying to adopt the children legally. During our first trip we met the New Zealand–born filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly who was producing a documentary on a de-miner (a person who removes explosives mines from war torn areas) working in the war-torn areas of South Sudan. Towards the end of the trip Pietra and Vanessa were introduced to each other and ended up chatting half the night away in the camp. Pietra returned with us a month later to begin filming what would become The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins, a documentary about Vanessa's project in Sudan, her incredible attachment to the twins, and the drama that surrounded every step. The film premieres tonight at the Sundance Film Festival. Here, Pietra speaks about the Beecroft project, the eternal circle of documentaries, and the future of redheads. Matthu Placek MATTHU PLACEK I was fascinated by your subject in Rumbek, the de-miner, and was thrilled to have met you during the first trip. The night you met Vanessa you had no idea of her background, her level of success as a contemporary artist, or her mission in Rumbek. What was your first impression of Vanessa’s purpose in Sudan? PIETRA BRETTKELLY My understanding was that she had made a very powerful connection with the twins, through breast-feeding them and nurturing them on her previous two trips to South Sudan. And that she was pursuing a desire to adopt them. I do remember that when she told me she was a performance artist, I knew nothing of what that meant. In my ignorance, I assumed it was something about dancing and I remember boring her (I’m sure) about how I had studied ballet as a child. MP What was it about Vanessa Beecroft herself that propelled you to make her the subject of the documentary you were working on? PB In recent years I’ve been exploring a discussion about international adoptions. I was already doing a two-part film in Romania on the subject, and wondered about the issue in other countries. I was especially interested in countries that had recently come through war, countries in isolation, and countries where parents had been lost or killed causing high numbers of orphans. I’ve long wondered if adoption, ‘saving’ these orphans, is what we as responsible people in the first, privileged world should do. Or, is there a more grassroots approach we should be taking to their plight—improving the environment, the society they live in through infrastructure, education, and support so that they can be nurtured amongst their own kind. I’m still not sure. MP The subject matter of VBSS could be considered controversial or even exploitative of the children. However, on the other hand, I personally feel, that the images produced for this series, especially the VBSS_002_mp, were her most tender, personal, and autobiographical. Were you, as a documentary filmmaker, able to remain neutral and keep an objective approach both personally and in the film? PB I would love to say yes, but I think it’s impossible as a human being not to become involved when passionate issues are involved. Whether it be fellow human beings, the plight of children, the vulnerability of a young mother, the environment… All I can hope is that I have shown both sides of the discussion as I recall it, with fairness.

MP With the uncertain outcome of the adoption, do you feel the film is complete?
PB I don’t believe a documentary is ever complete, since our lives, the source of documentary, are never complete. But as you’ll see in the film, the story grew so that it became much larger than the story of the adoption. It encompassed the story of a woman at a crossroads, willing to risk her career by taking a strong stance with the SS series and away from her popular tableux of naked women. A woman willing to risk her marriage, and her happiness for the love of the twins. It highlighted this incredible artist at work, her drive, her practices, her singular vision. At times could be considered a profile but with a twist.
MP In addition to the footage from Sudan, you also accompanied Vanessa to the Venice Biennale to film her last performance, VB61 that was a commentary on the genocide in Sudan. How do you feel this performance was relevant to the film and her pursuit to adopt the twins?
PB I won’t give away the end of the film, but there is a realization, an actualization (I don’t understand what she means by actualization) in VB61 that I felt brought some rest, some conclusion to Vanessa’s sixteen-month journey that I filmed.
MP Whenever an artist finishes a project, there is always that damn question at the end: what’s next?
Ah yes. For me, I have a number of ideas. Here in New Zealand, one involves following a human rights abuse case between the government and local Maori (New Zealand’s indigenous peoples). I am also working on a number of international films including one that has long been mulled over, about redheads. Being a redhead myself I’ve always wanted to explore our little subgroup of earth.

Top and bottom left: Photography Matthu Placek
Bottom right: Photography courtesy Vanessa Beecroft Studio

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