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Tribeca Women Directors: Meet Jennifer Grausman (Art and Craft)

Women and Hollywood By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood April 16, 2014 at 12:00PM

"I couldn't stop thinking about it: what kind of art forger donates his work to museums instead of selling it?"
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Still from "Art and Craft"
Still from "Art and Craft"

Jennifer Grausman directed and produced the Emmy-nominated documentary Pressure Cooker (2008). Previously, she was the Director of the Screenwriters Colony and Manager of Exhibition and Film Funding at The Museum of Modern Art. Grausman co-directed Art and Craft with Sam Cullman and Mark Becker. (Press materials)

Art and Craft will debut at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 17.

Please give us your description of the film playing:

 

Art and Craft follows prolific art forger Mark Landis at the very moment his thirty-year ruse is exposed. What at first glance seems like a generous act of philanthropy turns out to be one of the most widespread and unusual cases of deception in the art world. 

What drew you to this story? 

I read a story in The New York Times about Mark Landis, an eccentric art forger who gave away his fakes instead of selling them. The Times reported that numerous attempts to contact Landis had been unsuccessful, so I put the article away. But then I couldn't stop thinking about it -- what kind of art forger donates his work to museums instead of selling it? The story particularly resonated with me since I grew up in the art world -- my uncle is a sculptor and my aunt owned a gallery -- and I worked as a fundraiser for The Museum of Modern Art before I began making films.  

What was the biggest challenge?

There were many challenges in completing this project. Conceptually, we had a strong narrative arc, but we also had two main characters who spent much of their time at home, often alone. Landis in particular rarely went out into the world when he wasn't on a so-called "philanthropic binge." So Sam Cullman, Mark Becker and I really had to think creatively about how to open up the story. 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" to donate his forgeries to museums. 

What advice do you have for other female directors? 

Know your strengths and surround yourself with people who have complementary skills. Filmmaking is collaborative, and so it's important to find people with whom you work well and to foster those relationships. 

What's the biggest misconception about you and your work?

A big misconception is that it's easy to find a good documentary idea. No matter how good an idea is, those that make compelling films are rare. You need a perfect storm of story, character and luck.

Name your favorite women directed film and why. 

I started in the narrative film world and now toggle back and forth between narrative and documentary. The film that first comes to mind as my favorite film directed by a woman is Walking and Talking by Nicole Holofcener. It was a film that strongly resonated with me at a very particular time in my life and still rings true. The naturalism of her comedy and the way she created such fully realized and complicated female characters continues to inspire my screenwriting and directing.

This article is related to: Jennifer Grausman, Documentary, Women Directors, Art and Craft, Tribeca Film Festival, Interviews