What can art do in a time of turmoil? Documentary filmmakers Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen have made a career of showing how individuals and communities use art to work through personal, political and public issues. Their 2010 documentary Marwencol, which won numerous awards, documents how Mark Hogancamp uses photography and story-making to deal with a traumatic brain injury. A new film called Spettacolo–their Creative Capital project, premiering at SXSW in Austin, TX, on March 11–explores how villagers in a small Italian farming town preserve their heritage and confront community issues by turning their lives into an annual play. We spoke to Chris and Jeff about shooting Spettacolo ahead of the premiere at SXSW.
Alex Teplitzky: Did you happen upon the theme of using art to deal with real life problems accidentally or was it intentional?
Jeff Malmberg: We ran into this story completely by accident. We were on a vacation in the middle of making Marwencol when we bumped into this strange little town with a theater. So it just sort of hit us in the face. That said, I think we’re both attracted to stories about people who use art to deal with their issues. It’s not like they are making art as a means of self-expresion–they’re making art to try to solve an actual problem.
For me, those stories always manage to get at the real “power of art” that people like to talk about in ways that other art stories just can’t. That “power of art” idea is usually so abstract–the power to do what exactly? In both these cases, the creation of art is granting these people the power to actually transform their lives and understand themselves.