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NZ Doco Wins Place At Sundance Film Festival

New Zealand Documentary Wins Place At Sundance Film Festival

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For the first time, a New Zealand-made documentary has won a place at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in January 2008.

In a coup for Auckland documentary-maker Pietra Brettkelly, her film The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins will run in competition in the highly prized World Cinema – Documentary section at Sundance, where two years ago Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth had its world release. The section is reserved for 16 of the nearly 4000 films entered into the various sections at Sundance, considered to be one of the top five film festivals in the world.

The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins features contemporary artist Vanessa Beecroft, a pop star of the art world. And like the pop diva Madonna, the artist whose depictions of nude models have stirred controversy among critics, Beecroft wants to adopt African children.

Filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly gained unprecedented access to this cutting edge contemporary artist as she tries to adopt Sudanese twins Madit and Mongor Akot.

The film follows Ms Beecroft over 16 months as she attempts to persuade the family of the twins and the Sudanese government to allow her to do something no foreigner has legally done - take South Sudanese children out of the country to a new life.

The documentary also gives an unprecedented insight into the life of Ms Beecroft, her provocative exhibitions around the world, her struggle with depression, her volatile relationship with her husband and her fascination for Africa.

Ms Beecroft gained notoriety with her striking nude tableaux - dozens of naked women standing motionless in stark locations.

But Pietra Brettkelly knew none of this when she first met Vanessa while filming a New Zealand television series in Sudan. Pietra was taking time out with her film crew at a make-shift bar in Rumbek, South Sudan.

"It was one of those bizarre places in the middle of nowhere, where you only expect to find foreign correspondents, aid workers and UN staff. Then I spotted this woman who was obviously none of those; she really grabbed your attention. I went to talk to her."

Vanessa told her about her quest to "save" the babies. She said she'd been breast-feeding the undernourished boys in an orphanage since the first day of her first visit to Sudan.

And this was her second visit.

"I knew nothing about Vanessa Beecroft, but I was intrigued by her. And international adoptions - I felt like this was a story that had to be told."

Pietra set off on her self-funded project unaware of what she would discover about this complex woman.

For the first time Ms Beecroft allowed a filmmaker into her life, revealing her creative processes, her often difficult relationships with her parents, her staff and her husband.

It shows her English father predicting his daughter's future with his pendulum, her mother telling of a lonely life with her little girl in the remote hills of northern Italy.

"A New York art dealer told me with Vanessa there is no boundary between life and art. She sets herself - and those in her life - in unbelievable situations. She photographed herself breast-feeding the twins on the altar of the local Catholic cathedral in Southern Sudan. The South Sudan prints sell for NZ$65,000."

This is more than just a story about another wealthy white celebrity trying to adopt an exotic child. It is about a woman many regard as a genius who is prepared to risk her marriage and her career to "save" two Sudanese babies.

In her 10-year career making documentaries Pietra Brettkelly has always demonstrated an ability to get under the skin of her subjects. Beauty will Save the World, a film about an extraordinary beauty pageant in Libya, screened at the AFI Film Festival in LA in 2003.

“In her fascinating, briskly paced video documentary, Pietra Brettkelly tracks the pageant with a sharp eye toward its implications.” LA Weekly Nov 2003

Pietra’s heart-breaking documentary about a New Zealander who adopted a Romanian orphan Iani Lingurar entitled The Rescue of Iani won the acclaim of both audience and critics and screened on TV3 earlier this year.

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