June 5, 2014 by  

Finding Vivian Maier


Finding Vivian Maier

One of many self portraits taken by photographer Vivian Maier featured in the documentary film "Finding Vivian Maier."

Starring: Vivian Maier, John Maloof, Mary Ellen Mark
Directed and written by: John Maloof (debut) and Charlie Siskel (debut)

With some of the same intriguing qualities as the 2012 Oscar-winning documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” wherein filmmakers tracked down 1970s folk musician Sixto Rodriguez living in solitude in Detroit, co-director John Maloof found himself working under a different set of circumstances when he decided to make the doc “Finding Vivian Maier.” Maier, a nanny who secretly took over 150,000 photographs throughout her life and is now considered by many to be one of the 20th century’s greatest photographers, didn’t need to be “searched for” or necessarily “found”  as much as she needed to be understood.

In “Finding Vivian Maier,” Maloof makes it his personal mission to uncover who Vivian Maier was after he bought a storage locker full of her photo negatives and was blown over by the talent she possessed. Unfortunately, Maloof wasn’t able start his investigation with just her name (internet searches were nil). It took two years after his initial discovery of her photos to finally come across something about Maier online: her obituary. Determined to show the world Maier’s photographs posthumously and get her the attention she deserved, Maloof began tracking down and interviewing anyone he could find who crossed paths with her during her 83-year-long life.

Through these interviews (some with children she cared for as a nanny, others with friends she met during her lifetime), along with never before seen footage of Maier and, of course, her exceptional black and white photos, Maloof creates a fascinating portrait of an eccentric and mysterious woman who led an extraordinarily private life that takes some unexpected dark turns.

While there are countless of unanswered questions when the film ends, Maloof does his best to get to the heart of Maier and how she viewed the world through her insightful images. Maybe part of the message he wanted to get across about Maier is that we will never truly know the full story. Whatever the case may be, Maloof has saved Maier’s work from obscurity (in addition to directing a beautifully-told narrative) and for that we should be thankful and seek her out ourselves.

Grade: B+

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