Movies about artists carry a certain appeal; if done right they offer the viewer glimpses of the mysterious inspiration behind a genius' work. But therein lies the rub for the filmmaker - how does one photograph "inspiration"? In general, how does a visual medium like cinema capture and give physical form to the intangible - to abstract concepts like creativity or the idea of ideas? Hitchcock spent his career devising various camera tricks to reveal the inner workings of his pantheon of characters, and the struggle continues to this day in films such as Inception.
Director Karen Stanton acknowledged this issue throughout the making of her first feature, A Not So Still Life, which visits the Tacoma Art Museum Sunday, Feb. 6, for a one-time screening. The 82-minute profile of world-renowned artist and Seattle resident Ginny Ruffner forced Stanton to carefully reflect on methods of representing her subject through the artwork itself.
"There's a lot of responsibility there," she tells me while waiting for a plane at Palm Springs airport, where earlier this month Still Life received two honors at the city's annual film festival. "As a filmmaker...you really are putting yourself in that position [of] interpreting that art for the audience. And that was a little daunting."
A veteran of "portraiture" television commercials for brands as big as Budweiser and Mercedes, Stanton enlarged her storytelling technique to encompass a feature-length format. Apparently the effort has paid off; along with recent success in Palm Springs, last year Still Life won the Golden Space Needle Award for Best Documentary at its SIFF premiere.
"(At the time) I didn't realize that it was the largest film festival in North America...so it was a double honor," says Stanton.
Behind an impressive array of paintings, drawings and other works stands a spunky artist with an unflagging energy for life. In a voice as delicate as the glass flowers she makes, Ruffner recollects a near-fatal automobile accident that plunged her into a coma almost twenty years ago. Yet she miraculously emerged, her talents - and wit - intact, refusing to be stilled. "Neener neener, here I am," this woman proclaims boldly to the universe.
And here is her story, encased permanently on video, raring to move and inspire others.
Ruffner, Stanton, and the film's producers will attend the screening to answer questions. Tickets cost $5 for TAM and Grand Cinema members and students; $15 for general public. For more information on the film visit www.ginnyruffnerthemovie.com, or to see Ruffner's work visit www.ginnyruffner.com.
[Tacoma Art Museum, A Not So Still Life, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2 p.m., $5-$15, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.4258]