2016 Sundance Docs in Focus: SKY LADDER: THE ART OF CAI GUO-QIANG

sky ladderThis year’s Day One film representing the World Doc section brings today’s profiles to a close: SKY LADDER: THE ART OF CAI GUO-QIANG, Kevin Macdonald’s look at the life and work of one of China’s most celebrated artists.

Festival Section:
World Cinema Documentary Competition

Sundance Program Description:

Cai Guo-Qiang is an electrifying artist who creates massive drawings from fireworks, meant to unite Eastern philosophy and contemporary social issues. Most famous for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, Cai Guo-Qiang explores the connections between the human and the cosmic, destruction and creation, the eternal and the fleeting. The film follows the artist across the globe as he creates large-scale, visually stunning new work with explosives, and it traces his rise from an ordinary child growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution to the art superstar that he is today.

With unfettered access, filmmaker Kevin Macdonald combines the artist’s intimate reflections with interviews from friends, family, and members of the art world. Vérité footage of Cai’s artistic process culminates in his final realization of a lifelong pursuit: Sky Ladder, a visionary, explosive event that he pulls off in his hometown in China after 20 years of failed attempts. Kevin Macdonald’s superbly constructed, luminous film captures for posterity the brilliance of an artist whose ephemeral work is, by its nature, completely of the moment.

Some Background:
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Scottish-born Macdonald is a Sundance alum as the director of LIFE IN A DAY (2011) and as an executive producer of SENNA (2011). He previously received support from the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program for his 1999 film, ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER, which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Macdonald is also represented at this year’s festival as the director and executive producer of the fiction limited series 11.22.63, the pilot of which screens as a Special Event.

Producers: Wendi Murdoch, Fisher Stevens, and Hugo Shong; Co-Producers: Alice Henty and Shanshan Xia; Associate Producer: Ruchi Mital
This project marks businesswoman Murdoch’s second film as producer; she is best-known as the former wife of News Corporation’s CEO Rupert Murdoch. Stevens has previously produced Sundance films RACING EXTINCTION (2015), THE COVE (2009), and CRAZY LOVE (2007), also co-directing the latter. IDG Asia president Shong is a Chinese venture capitalist who previously produced SNOW FLOWER, among other films, and has encouraged collaboration between China and American film institutions like the AFI and Boston University’s film department.

Co-producer Henty’s previous credits include line producing several Sundance alums, such as HAPPY VALLEY (2014), CITIZEN KOCH (2013), BUCK (2011), and THE TILLMAN STORY (2010), and serving as production manager on Macdonald’s ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER. Xia Shanshan has previously been part of Cai Studio, and has directed and produced short videos showcasing Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibitions. Mital previously produced the Sports Emmy-winning doc WE COULD BE KING.

Editors: Nick Emerson and Adam Biskupski
Emerson previously cut Sundance fiction alum THE HALLOW (2015), while Biskupski’s credits include alums JONAH (2013) and UNMADE BEDS (2009)

Why You Should Watch:
Incorporating Cai’s archive of past pyrotechnic spectacles and new footage of the artist’s attempt to bring his titular creation to life, Macdonald constructs a compelling portrait that is accessible to both longtime admirers and newcomers to Cai Guo-Qiang’s eye-catching body of work.

More Info:

For Sundance screening dates and times, click the link in the first paragraph.

To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2016 Twitter list.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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