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Barnes Documentary Premieres in Toronto: “Power-Hungry Monsters”? UPDATED

Director Don Argott

From the Toronto International Film Festival’s even-handed description of the new documentary about the Barnes Foundation, “The Art of the Steal,” it was difficult to discern whether the film itself was also even-handed or took sides in the contentious dispute over whether the collection of Albert Barnes should be moved from Merion to Philadelphia, contrary to his written stipulations.

Now we know.

The movie had its first of three public screenings at the festival on Saturday. Martin Knelman of the Toronto Star reports (scroll down):

This muckraking documentary, directed by Don Argott, chronicles a plan to move the legendary Barnes collection of post-Impression paintings to Philadelphia from its sleepy suburban home (contrary to the will of Dr. Barnes) as if it were the greatest art crime of all time. The film plays like a non-fiction version of a Frank Capra populist fable, portraying proponents of the move as evil, greedy, power-hungry monsters. Those already familiar with the complex facts of the case are less likely to be seduced by the film than those who are not.

I’m intimately familiar with the “complex facts,” and we’ll see whether or not I’m “seduced” when the film appears at the New York Film Festival later this month. Some recently got an advance look at a NYC screening for critics, but I purchased my tickets when they went on public sale yesterday. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be in Row F of at Alice Tully Hall (checking out the acoustics again) on Sept. 29.

The NY Times yesterday posted a brief video of Argott talking about his film, where he asserts that he tried to be fair to proponents
of the move.

Here’s CBC New‘s report [via] on the Toronto premiere, including comments about the filmmaker:

In making the documentary, director Don Argott made a lot of powerful
enemies in the city of the Liberty Bell. At the Q&A following the
premiere public screening at TIFF, Argott jokingly wondered if Toronto
could offer the filmmakers artistic asylum.

I’m willing to bet the Friends of the Barnes Foundation would be happy to offer him a safe house.

UPDATE: Here’s Todd McCarthy of Variety‘s review of the film [via].

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