New to DVD and VOD this week:
Jean François Gratton and Matt Zimbel
International Festival of Films on Art (FIFA) 2016
Hot Docs, Salem, Shanghai
A profile of the career and work of documentary street photographer George Zimbel.
Jean François Gratton and Matt Zimbel – George’s son – offer an appreciation of the photographer’s career, highlighting some of his more notable work, including a celebrated series on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street in the 1950s and a series of travel shoots for the New York Times Magazine, including work that helped make public plans for a hydro plant in Storm King which sparked resistance that ultimately stopped the project. While acclaimed as a humanist photographer of everyday people, and with Zimbel here downplaying the importance of celebrity portraiture such as iconic images of Marilyn Monroe on the subway grate and a series on retired President Truman, the film nevertheless oddly places an undue focus on the latter, creating a strange tension that is never fully explained. The filmmakers make use of Zimbel’s 1960 campaign photos of JFK and Jackie Kennedy as a thread throughout the film, a bone of contention in a rights claim against the New York Times. This is illustrated here somewhat too repetitiously through a series of back-and-forth letters between Zimbel, who demands the return of a photo that was licensed for a one-time use but was never returned to him, and the Times‘ officious-sounding legal department, which insists the photo is their property. Having left NYC life long ago for an extended stint in Canada’s Prince Edward Island and later Montreal, Zimbel is still productive, shown walking around taking photographs, and maintaining the life of a freelancer – though he bemoans the state of the modern world and its privacy laws which limit his documentary street photography work.