“ART FOR EVERYBODY tells the story of the painter Thomas Kinkade, whose brightly-colored, some would say “saccharine,” paintings of cozy cottages and lighthouses turned him into the most commercially successful artist of his generation. He rocketed to popularity in the ‘90s by marketing himself as the painter of wholesome American family values, and pitting himself against the fine art establishment. However, he died in a cloud of scandal, and after his death, his daughters discovered that he had left behind a whole other body of work comprised of unexpectedly dark, psychologically complex artworks. Their discovery asks the complicated question: Who was the real Thomas Kinkade?” Filmmaker Miranda Yousef on ART FOR EVERYBODY which screens at this year’s South By Southwest Film & TV.
Welcome to SxSW 2023! Are you attending your screenings in person?
Thank you! Yes, I am delighted to attend all three of my screenings in person. I’m particularly excited that some members of the Kinkade family, who are in the film, will also be at each screening.
How did ART FOR EVERYBODY come together?
As a filmmaker, I look for character stories that also touch on broader cultural themes, and have something to say about the universal human condition. Thomas Kinkade’s story fits that mold perfectly: his life and work engaged with big ideas such as what Art is, and who gets to decide; the politicization of taste; and what happens when a three-dimensional person turns himself into a two-dimensional brand. It’s also incredibly universal in its classic themes––it’s a family story and a rise-and-fall story, centered on a larger-than-life figure straight out of Greek tragedy. My producing partner and I were especially excited by the opportunity to make a film about a well-known individual whose complete story had never been told before. We immediately asked Morgan Neville, with whom I’ve collaborated for over a decade, if he would be interested in partnering with us on it, and the rest is history. It’s been an amazing process.
While working on a project, what is your creative process? Do you have any particular ritual or tradition when working on something?
Does eating a lot of chocolate count? I’d say that I approached directing the film much in the same way I approach editing: as a writing process. After some initial research and preliminary conversations with the Kinkade family, I began to develop my conception of both the story and the deeper underlying thesis for the film. Knowing that each interview would guide and complicate the journey of discovery, I listened as much to what the interviewees were not saying as to what they were, and as a result came out with a really wonderful crop of interviews. It was an incredibly intense and fast edit considering how much footage and archival material we had, but having done plenty of preparation and thinking beforehand stood us in good stead. I think the movie fairly closely reflects what I originally set out to make, which is not often the case.
If you had one favourite moment out of this entire project, the “Yes, this is IT” moment, what would that be?
We had scheduled a day of interviewing art critics and curators in New York, one of whom was Dan Siedell, who is an art historian and curator, as well as a theologian. Dan had written some intriguing and thoughtful blog posts after Thomas’s passing, and we were eager to include his unique perspective as a modern art scholar who had grown up in the evangelical tradition. During the interview, Dan spoke eloquently about how he felt it was vital for artists to go into the studio to work out their struggles, as opposed to how Kinkade painted over the difficulties of life. He wrapped it up by saying, completely unprompted, that he still wished that Kinkade had had a secret storage unit where he had, in fact, made darker works. To be clear, neither Dan nor any of the other art world experts we talked to had any idea about the existence of the vault or the dark works. So I was naturally over the moon when he said that!
I love to get technical, so I would love to know about the visual design of the movie from the cameras you used and the formats and your relation to the cinematographer.
We shot on the Sony Venice and FX9, and used prime lenses to create a painterly look. I had been watching a lot of documentaries over the prior year, and found myself much more drawn to the ones that were filmed with relatively stable (on sticks), composed shots. I asked my DP, the wonderful Tasha Van Zandt, to film the interviews using Rembrandt lighting, and we were deliberate about what we chose to include in the frame (lots of paintings in the backgrounds of our interviews, for example). But overall the look of the film also depended a lot on the archival elements and the graphics work (provided by the amazing team at Alterkind). The fun thing about doing an art film is that you have a ton of paintings to work with, and in this case we also had hundreds of hours of archival footage AND thousands of photographs. So it was a filmmaker’s dream in that sense.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your project at SxSW 2023?
The global pandemic has made me really miss going to the movies and sharing that communal experience, so I’m just really excited about getting to be in theatres with supportive SXSW audiences and having that joy again. Also, I am very much looking forward to the conversations we’ll be having around the film; one thing that we’ve seen from our very first feedback screening was that our discussions about the movie were ALWAYS incredibly engaging and complex. I can’t wait to see what happens when we bring ART FOR EVERYBODY into SXSW’s vibrant atmosphere.
Where is this going next? More festivals or a theatrical or streaming release?
More festivals for now, we hope. We’re an independent film and we’ll hopefully secure distribution sometime after SXSW.
How do you feel about the current moviegoing climate? Are you wishing more people to see movies in theatres, or is it okay to opt for a streaming release where more people could potentially see a movie?
In my opinion, it’s great for people to have different options to see a given film. I do hope that arthouse cinemas can find a way to bounce back from the pandemic; they’re such a vital part of the whole cinema ecosystem. But people aren’t monolithic in their tastes. Sometimes you want to watch a superhero blockbuster, and sometimes you want to watch an independent documentary (hint, hint). In a funny way, I think we’re all a little like Thomas Kinkade–sometimes you want to exercise different parts of your personality and taste, and I think that goes for the movies we watch as well.
What is the one thing that you would say to someone who is looking to get into movies, even now in such a changing world?
Go for it!
And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival and why?
I’ve been fortunate to have seen plenty of fantastic movies at film festivals, but one experience that sticks out to me was at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. I was in film school in Los Angeles at the time, and a friend called me up one day and said, “We have a condo and a private plane; do you want to go to Sundance?” (I’ll let you guess how many microseconds it took me to say yes.) I was at the festival for five days, and watched movies all day long. The very last movie I watched was “Whale Rider,” and it completely blew me away; the story was so emotional and uplifting, and it was told with such artistry. I had been feeling burned out by the grind of film school, and being at Sundance and seeing that film rejuvenated and inspired me.
This film and many others like it will be showing at South By Southwest taking place March 10-19. For more information point your browser to www.sxsw.com!