I always take Ken Morefield‘s recommendations seriously.

So, when I saw My Kid Could Paint That had arrived at my local video store, I started looking for an opportunity to rent it. Then, Tuesday night, I found it sitting on the DVD shelf of my local public library, and I snatched it up.

Anne and I watched it late Tuesday night. We were riveted. I lay awake in bed thinking about it.

I showed it to some friends on Wednesday. I thought about it all afternoon. Later, I made significant alterations to my Favorite Films of 2007 list.

On Thursday, I showed it to others, including my good friend, Seattle Pacific University professor Luke Reinsma.

Now Reinsma’s considering showing it to his classes next year. Good for him! I can’t think of a better film to get students thinking and arguing about the definition of art; the power of the media to represent and distort; and the easy ways that the media can deceive us.

It’s so important that all of us learn about the power of storytelling to build up, and the power of storytelling to tear down. It’s so important to learn to doubt with discernment, so that our faith becomes something more than blind adherence to what we hope is true. Faith in anything ‚Äî God, a church, a political party, a presidential candidate, a religious leader, or a story ‚Äî can be brave and redemptive, or it can be an exercise in folly and ignorance. This is one of those films that teaches us to be very, very careful about what we accept as true; very careful about who we trust; and vigilant in our discernment. Because our decisions will have real consequences that affect everyone around us.

This little documentary was a tale that grew in the telling, becoming more and more complicated until even the filmmaker himself was distraught at the ferocious questions gnawing at his conscience.

When Amir Bar-Lev decided to make a documentary about a 4-year-old finger-painter who made a splash at a local coffee shop with an art exhibit, he had no idea what he was getting into. He filmed little Marla Olmstead playing with paint and a canvas. He interviewed her parents, Mark and Laura, who invited him into their home and trusted him. He interviewed the journalist who broke the story. He followed Marla’s s rise to fame and fortune in the art world, and he stumbled into an intriguing mystery about her work.

But he also found himself entangled in sticky questions:

  • What is art?
  • What gives art its meaning?
  • How do you put a price on beauty?
  • Should we bother asking questions about the artist when we look at a work of art?
  • What should parents do when they have a child of extraordinary talent?
  • What does fame do to human beings?
  • What does the presence of a camera do to alter human behavior?
  • As viewers, how much information do we need in order to know the truth of a matter?
  • How can we tell stories without manipulating the truth?
  • Do we, as viewers, really “have a right to know the truth” about what goes on behind a family’s closed doors?

And on and on and on.

This documentary is one of the best discussion-starters on human nature, truth, and creative expression that I’ve ever seen. I highly recommend, not just for students of art, but for everyone.

It absolutely charges you up, making you want to pay more attention to what you see on television, and to seek out the truth for yourself. I’m reminded of that moment when Kevin Costner turns to the camera at the end of Oliver Stone’s JFK, after showing you what might be just a spectacular deception, or it might be a volume of truth that has been covered up by the government. He stares into the camera and says, “It’s up to you.” Whatever you think of that movie, you cannot deny the relevance of that moment.

This movie is inspiring, shocking, subversive, and inspirational. I’m becoming positively evangelical for this film. Rent it. Watch it with your friends and family. Discuss it. Few films I’ve seen relate more directly to what I consider the mission of my work at Looking Closer: to encourage everyone not just to enjoy what is best in the arts, but to look closer and with more discernment at what we are shown in art and entertainment, seeking truth, beauty, and meaning.

Here’s the review from Ken Morefield that put the film on my must-see list.

And I’m more pleased than ever to have Morefield sharing his perspectives at Looking Closer.

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