Finding Vivian Maier (2013) Poster

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Intriguing and Fascinating
howard.schumann19 August 2014
Though we know very little about some of the great artists of the past, many say that it is not important because we have the works. Yet the world still longs for knowledge about the living, breathing human being, the man or woman behind the name on the painting or the title page. This element of mystery is what makes John Maloof and Charlie Siskel's documentary Finding Vivian Maier so intriguing, yet also leaves us wanting to know more. The subject of the film is an unknown photographer whose art has been compared to the masters, though she never exhibited her work and little is known about her life.

The photos, discovered by Maloof, display a segment of society invisible to many in the 1950s - the old, the poor, the black, the young, and the disenfranchised, a kaleidoscope of stunning images that poignantly capture the faces of humanity with humor and rare sensitivity. The story begins with John Maloof reporting how he purchased a box of negatives at an auction in Chicago in 2007 for a book he was working on. Told that the photographs were by Vivian Maier, he did not recognize the name and could find nothing about her on Google. After stashing the box away for two years, Maloof decided to scan some images and post them on Flickr.

Writing on the website that he had about 30,000 negatives of Maier's work that cover a period ranging from the 1950s to the 1970s, he requested direction, asking whether the photos are worthy of an exhibition or a book. Shortly after that, an article appeared in a British newspaper and the Chicago Cultural Center presented an exhibition of her work in 2011. Kickstarter provided the funding and this documentary began to take shape. Still digging for more information, the second half of the film is devoted to discoveries the director made about Maier and they are not all pretty.

What we do know is that Maier was born in 1926 and spent some time in France before working as a nanny for upper middle class families in the Chicago suburbs (including a brief time with Phil Donahue). Always dressed in an old-fashioned suit, Maier would walk through streets and alleys with the children she cared for, snapping black and white photographs with her Rolleiflex camera that she held down by her waist. Interviews with past employers and grown children, though often contradictory, reveal a private but very complex individual with strong opinions that she did not hesitate to share. They also indicate that she had a dark side and her reported bizarre behavior may have indicated serious emotional problems.

There are also stories about her room being filled with newspaper as high as the ceiling, that she used a fake French accent (though some do not recall any accent at all), and changed her name with each family she worked for, often giving phony names. One woman remembered that Maier told her that she was "sort of a spy." Some of those interviewed have more upsetting memories about coercion and bullying, but the film does not dwell on them, nor provide anyone to either counter or corroborate them. We do learn, however, that when Vivian was much older, two of the children she cared moved her into an apartment and finally into a nursing home where she died in 2009.

Unfortunately, neither of these loving children was interviewed, leaving a tantalizingly vague idea of who she really was. Though admittedly he has a commercial interest in its promotion, Maloof has done a public service by making the world aware of the work of this great artist and has been willing to spend an enormous amount of time and money in the process. Though this has resulted in her work now being displayed in galleries all over the world, the question of why her photographs have not been accepted by the Museum of Modern Art is left unexplored.

The bigger mystery - why she chose to withhold the photos from the world, of course, is still unknown and the film sheds very little light on this puzzle. Like last year's Searching for Sugar Man, a documentary about Sixto Rodriguez, another unknown but very talented artist, Finding Vivian Maier is a fascinating ride. Unlike Rodriguez, however, Vivian Maier will never hear the applause.
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Piecing together the puzzle of a life
Buddy-5110 January 2015
The documentary "Finding Vivian Maier," written and directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, tells the fascinating tale of a woman who lived and died in obscurity - then, through a serendipitous fluke of fate and an undiscovered talent for photography, became well known and celebrated long after her death. So much so that they even went and made a movie about her.

The saga began when Maloof, a young historian/filmmaker, bought a box of negatives at an auction in 2007. The negatives, it turned out, belonged to a woman named Vivian Maier, born in 1926, who had spent most of her adult life taking pictures of the world around her - more than 150,000 of them to be exact. Vivian never shared her work with the people in her life, even though the images were of a quality to rival some of the world's greatest and most famous photographers. Intrigued by what he had unearthed - the treasure trove included many 8 MM films as well - Maloof decided to re-create the life of this talented woman by seeking out those who knew her and using their knowledge of her to help piece it all together. It seems that Vivian spent her life as a nanny to the well-off families of Chicago; in fact, she was hired by no less a figure than Phil Donahue to look after his four children for a short time.

Through the movie, there emerges a portrait of an eccentric, intensely private woman, who never married and was seemingly devoid of family, who kept her personal background a secret, frequently used pseudonyms, affected a phony French accent (despite the fact that she was a native New Yorker), voiced strong opinions on politics and society, and traveled the world with only a camera for a companion, continually documenting, through both stills and film, the world as she and few others saw it.

One of the interviewees describes Vivian's work as reflecting "the bizarreness of life, the incongruencies of life, and the unappealing- ness of human beings." Yet, what comes through most vividly in her work is its humanity, her ability to capture the essence of people from all ages and walks of life in a single moment in time.

However, if you thought "Finding Vivian Maier" would turn out to be one of those unalloyed "feel good" movie experiences, you'd be sadly mistaken. For not everything we learn about the woman behind the camera is uplifting, charming and inspiring. In fact, the movie takes a decidedly dark turn in the latter half, as a number of the children she oversaw recount some of the abuse - both physical and emotional - they suffered at her hands.

She is described by some who knew her as "damaged" and "past eccentric,' riddled with mental illness, paranoia, and a compulsion for hoarding.

She became more and more isolated from the world as she entered old age, reduced to dumpster-diving for food. and becoming increasingly reliant on the kindness of strangers before death finally came for her in 2009.

Yet, now her work adorns the walls of many an art gallery the world over, as ever-increasing legions of admirers come to appreciate her talent.

For all its speculation, the movie demonstrates at least a certain amount of self-awareness by admitting that it may be a trifle unfair to judge a person and the life she led based entirely on how others saw and felt about her, without the person being given a chance to clarify or defend herself.

In a way, Vivian Maier is a stand-in for all the nameless, faceless people who surround us unnoticed, the vast majority of people who live their lives in relative obscurity and leave little real mark on the world after they're gone. Except, thanks to the fickle finger of fate and her own unique talent, Vivian did leave a mark, one that will be admired and appreciated for generations to come.
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Wonderful documentary with two main interwoven stories.
munnh15 April 2014
I saw Finding Vivian Maier last night and thought that the movie was very interesting and riveting. I've been following the story of Vivian Maier's photography ever since the story first appeared on PBS-WTTW, Chicago. At first pass, the story was lacking in general information about her, but the many 1950s/1960s street photos of Chicago (mostly) and New York City were wonderful. The photos, I think it's fair to say, took the international photo art world by storm.

After she died, the bulk of her photos and negatives were bought by John Maloof, a co-director of the movie. Vivian Maier's personal and photographic story, along with John Maloof's story relative to purchasing the photos and fleshing out information on Ms Maier are the subject of the movie and the two interwoven stories are most interesting.

Interviews of those that knew her or her work are in the movie, many of her photos are shown, as are shows of her photos.

I, like the previous reviewer, would like to see the movie again. If it comes out in CD or similar form, I'd be a buyer.
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An entertaining 83 minute sales pitch
nathan-5625 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This film covers the fascinating discovery and commercializing of one of the un-seen masters of 20th century photography.

You probably want to start with the BBC documentary about Vivian Maier before watching this one, called The Vivian Maier Mystery. It has more facts, and research, and explains what is known about her life in a definitive fashion. The BBC film also presents multiple viewpoints on key topics, and was not financed by the company that sells her prints.

That said, the tale as told in Finding Vivian Maier is good reality TV drama, and has more of an emotional tug -- and really makes you want to go out and buy some of this artists' work.
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A double whammy of story and art
rxfore12 April 2014
This documentary is one of a kind. The story of an eccentric, possible mentally ill mystery woman and her prolific photographic work. If the move was just about her art, it would be extraordinary, as her work was. The story of her bizarre and secret life just enhance the film. For a first time effort from John Maloof, this one is very well done. The film starts with those who knew her, openly expressing their amazement to her unknown and mysterious life as a street photographer, filled with the images she kept a secret from everyone. You wonder how someone with her talent could keep it a secret for so long. Maloof plays a significant role in front of the camera as it is necessary for him to tell the story. When it is over, you are still left with a sense of disappointment. You know more about this mystery woman, yet you still crave for more..............And, the images still haunt you. This is one movie I will see numerous times.

The showing I attended had Jeff Garlin participate in a Q & A. It was entertaining as he detailed the process and effort Maloof put in to make this gem of a documentary.

The added bonus was my friends brother was in the film. Very exciting.

Please see this film if you can. Please see the photography of Vivian Maier if you can.
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Completely unique and engrossing....
MartinHafer7 September 2014
"Finding Vivian Maier" is one of the strangest documentaries I've seen in a very long time. Strange, however, does not mean it's bad--the movie is one that surprised me with how much I was drawn into this highly unique woman's life. And, it's just debuted on Netflix in case you'd like to give it a try, as it's amazingly original and worth your time.

When the documentary begins, a young and rather unusual young man, John Maloof, talks to the camera to explain how he came to know Vivian Maier. One day, a huge box full of photographs was being auctioned off and he bought it on a lark. It turned out that the pictures were amazingly good photographs of various everyday people taken in the 1950s. However, the pictures had a very artistic touch and it was obvious that the photographer was no novice---they had the eye of a wonderful artist. Armed only with a bit of information, John began researching for more on this woman. To his surprise, he learned that this Vivian Maier was a governess and maid--not a professional photographer. However, the story soon gets MUCH stranger. It turns out that there is a storage unit filled with her belongings and Miss Maier has recently died. And, with no apparently last of kin, Maloof buys the contents of the unit. Inside are boxes and boxes and suitcase after suitcase filled with approximately 100,000 photos taken from 1951 up towards the present. And, in addition, are many, many roles of undeveloped film-- and who knows what wonderful treasures are on these films?

The film, however, does not just talk about her photos or qualities as an artist. Instead, John goes on a journey to try to find people who knew Vivian in order to help him assemble her life story. What he finds is often contradictory, quite confusing and, above all, very strange. It seems that Vivian really had difficulty connecting with people and didn't remain on her jobs very long. She also created a persona of a French woman--though it turns out she was born in New York! Additionally, aside from one family with which she worked for about six years, most of her jobs seem to have lasted only a few months or perhaps a year (this was the case with Phil Donohue's family back about 1970--yes THAT Phil Donahue)! The reasons are not simple to explain without seeing the film, but could be boiled down to the fact that she was, as one person put it, a 'damaged person'--with so much emotional baggage and weird behaviors that she was unable to really connect with others. She could not allow herself to be physically or emotionally touched by others and her photos are a possible unusual way of connecting with the world. What else do you learn? Well, see the film--as the story takes many unusual twists and turns. Overall, it's less like a biography and more like a forensic case where some people are trying to re- create a dead person by interviewing all those who knew her during her odd life as well as using Maier's own photographs, film footage and audio tapes. And, what's really unusual is that most of the people she knew seemed to have no idea that she was a great she took this secret to her grave.

Fascinating....this is probably the word that best describes this film. You just have to see it to believe it and although many might think twice about seeing a documentary or a film about a strange eccentric, I heartily recommend you give this movie a chance. You won't regret it.
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Impeccably executed portrait of a brilliant but flawed artist. Must-watch doc for the year.
Sergeant_Tibbs13 November 2014
Stories of posthumous success are always interesting. Rarely have they been on the scale of Vivian Maier, whose body of work proves that her perspective of the streets is not a fluke. The pictures are staggeringly good yet modest. She had a talent, if not one for printing and promotion. Elusive artists, ones who do it for their own satisfaction, are pretty fascinating. You think art should be one of those things that begs as much attention as possible. That was Vivian's enemy. Fortunately, or unfortunately for her, director John Maloof knows how to spread the word. Upon finding her photos and setting up galleries for them, he set out on a journey to find out more about her. He probes into all her facets. Her brilliance, her quirks, and her flaws. Perhaps Maloof shouldn't have had the gall to include himself, but he acts as an antithesis to Vivian. Almost an antagonist to her goal. It's a great dynamic that guides the film in a great way. Thoroughly entertaining, enlightening and engaging documentary with a beautiful score to boot. Finding Vivian Maier is easily of the best documentaries of the year.

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Photo Realism
jadepietro6 May 2014
This film is recommended.

Filmmaker John Maloof stumbles upon a trove of unwanted photos at an auction by a relatively unknown artist named Vivian Maier and this documentary, co-directed with Charlie Siskel, wants to make her well known and just may do so. His Antique Roadshow story becomes the basis for his documentary, Finding Vivian Maier, and it's almost too obvious that this filmmaker wants to create a legend and myth in this well done infomercial for this talented woman. Through interviews and archival footage of her photographic work, we learn little about this eccentric artist's life, she remain an enigma. But her photographic more than fulfills her lasting legacy.

To be honest, the film does not present a well balanced view of the late artist, and is purposely biased in its approach to heralding her fame. But Miss Maier's work, part Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and Walker Evans, is certainly powerful. Her street photography is quite remarkable with a dark and insightful point of view.

Armed with a Rolleiflex camera, Maier shot over 100,000 photos of street life. Her imagery, mostly head shots of people on the streets of Chicago beginning in the 1960's, is varied and quite accomplished. Her photo journalistic style documents those times well into the 90's era. Her use of shadows and light are particularly effective and help to create a chilling mood with its subjects and their environs.

´┐╝Finding Vivian Maier tries to uncover this artist's personal life, but never achieves that goal, due to conflicting stories by interviewees and the lack of physical evidence left by Maier herself. We take away from the film the fact that she was a private person whose main job was being a full-time nanny, although she may have possibly had severe mentally issues. She was a creative and prolific artist on the side, rarely printing or showing her own work to others. But we also take away from this biography a slightly disturbing feeling that the filmmakers might have an ulterior motive, taking advantage of the artist for purely financial reasons rather than mere admiration of her work. Some details (her early life, her friends and family members, her death) are glossed over instead of examined with any depth or mention.

That said, the filmmakers have assembled a compelling portrait of the photographer and her work is certainly worthy of attention. ´┐╝We may not find the real essence of the artist in the documentary, Finding Vivian Maier, but the journey itself and Vivian Maier's memorable imagery makes for fascinating viewing. GRADE: B

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Exposing Who's Behind The Camera
aharmas16 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Documentaries have an interesting way of touching souls. They are particularly effective because they're based on reality, and when they're well made, one appreciate the art behind the camera, and the full impact of the qualities of the subject matter. Last year we had "Blackfish", and I can recall others that were so effective that led to changes in the way we see and do things.

"Vivian" certainly raises a lot of questions because of the way it is structured. There are surprises and revelations, and they all ring true, not fabricated or biased, as it is the case of so many documentaries and Hollywood films which are produced by people who believe the subject matter is enough to have something special. "Vivian" introduces us to a unquestionable talent, one shaped by mysterious forces and incidents we might never really know or understand but presented in such a way that we might never forget who or what we have seen.

A photographer finds an incredible amount of photos, films (developed and undeveloped), and the trigger is that the artwork is unquestionably beautiful, haunting, special, and begs the audience to inquire how and why it was made. Through some careful detective work, we soon find the identity of the artist. The initial discovery raises more questions because of the quality of the work and the profession of the woman who took the pictures. She is revealed to be a nanny and a caretaker.

As layers are removed and more information is provided, we see a complex and mysterious individual who had the obsessive need to document what she saw, and with the help of a very good camera, an excellent eye for visual composition, and some interesting emotional baggage, we put together most of the puzzle.

The documentary takes you through interviews of some of the children she took care, the impressions she made along the way. How she was an imposing and puzzling character, creating an aura of distance, but not being able to remain neutral. Her personality was too strong and her emotions so powerful, they were hard to ignore. Interviewees show their affection, the way she made a difference in their lives by exposing them to a truly complex nature, a woman so different from what most expected. She dragged children through remote parts of town, driven by an impulse to study the darker side of society. Vivian was attracted by forces many would rather disregard. She look for frowns, flaws, pain, darkness and with the help of her camera, made them beautiful, alluring, attractive, and powerful.

The last third of the film shows her personal background, and though we know more than we did one hour before, we still are left with holes in the stories. They are meant to remain that way because in Vivian's eyes, the work and ideas were important enough to reflect her thoughts and questions, but she wasn't ready to share them with the world, much the way she kept her personal distance, she might have believed the world was not ready for her contributions, or she lacked the confidence to offer them to us.

What is obvious by the end of the documentary is that she is now making a mark in the world, and people can recognize that her soul is in her work, a soul that appreciated, feelings and emotions other fail to recognize or are bound by their own limits. She had no audience expectations and crossed barriers. There is the sadness and joys of a child's eyes, the weight of the world in those denizens she captured at a special time. The most intriguing subjects are those who know they are being photographed and are under her spell, willing to let souls connect for a few seconds. Just like her subjects, which remain a mystery to us, like Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa", Vivian also manages to remain somehow enigmatic, yet fully human and quite a special artist and human being.
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sol-6 March 2016
None of her pictures were ever published during her lifetime, but after death, street photographer Vivian Maier attained fame when undeveloped negatives from her deceased estate were published online. This documentary from first-time directors John Maloof and Charlie Siskel follows their attempts to probe into Maier's background and discover why she took so many photographs, yet never shared them with anyone. The film is very deliberately structured. The first half basks in Maier's magnificent work, focusing on her innovative camera angles and ability to candidly capture pure human emotion. The second half is dedicated to the investigation of who Maier was and what made her tick, and as the film progresses, we gradually learn (through thoughtfully spliced interviews) that she may have not just been an eccentric recluse, but in fact someone very paranoid with severe emotional problems. Some have commented that the documentary spends far too much time towards the end on the question of just how unbalanced Maier is (especially considering that nobody still knows for sure); then again, it is always understandable why Maloof and Siskel are so set on pursuing her past. She was, after all, a great artist and it is often fascinating to learn what makes such people tick. Especially interesting are the conflicting testimonies of what Maier was like. Maloof and Siskel may be unable to offer any definite answers or deeper insight into Maier's psyche, but this film is just as much about their attempt to understand an unknown artist as it is about the artist herself.
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beautiful pictures and fascinating mystery
SnoopyStyle23 November 2014
John Maloof buys one lot of photo negatives at a local auction house for $380 in 2007. He's looking for old pictures of Chicago to put in a picture book. He purchases the rest of the negatives from the other buyers and finds out after goggling that she was actually just a nanny. Her works find recognition as Maloof starts displaying them. She was also a pack rat and he pieces together her life from all of material she saved up. She seems like an eccentric private person who took pictures all the time. She would even bring her young charges to the slums to take interesting photographs. He continues to dig into her life and finds some fascinating mysteries.

First off, the pictures look beautiful. I really like the photos of people especially. Shooting from below gives a majesty to the subjects. That's the hook. Then there is the mystery of the nanny. It's a fascinating reveal as Maloof interview some of Vivian's charges. The fact that she seems to be alone raises the mystery factor. The only drawback is Maloof himself. There is probably some self serving purpose going on here and he's not the best narrator for the purpose. However I'm just drawn in by this private woman. I find her fascinating.
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Into the world of creative madness
stillComputing23 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This is a very good movie. It starts by the accidental discovery of the negatives of what turns out to be a very talented photographer. You slowly learn more. There is a darker side, and you soon find yourself immersed a bizarre world--a journey of following Vivian Maier's discarded gems, photographic and other, as well as emotional debris and dark alleys that echo of the unthinkable. A woman so capable at looking at us and revealing truth, yet carefully masks herself behind which must certainly be the workings of the mental ill. The movie does a unique job at letting your experience how greatness and mental illness can coexist; in fact, perhaps her greatness is a result of the mental illness.
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disturbing "documentary"
david-robin25 September 2014
First, I would suggest everyone of you to go online and watch "Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny's Pictures?" produced by the BBC, and please come back to read the rest of this review.

The BBC documentary being released a few months before John Maloof's film, I was interested to learn what Maloof had more to show or tell about Vivian Maier, and risk a unflattering comparison with professional journalists.

Technically, I have to say that "Finding Vivian Maier" is not impressive.

A documentary about a photographer would be asking for voice-over narration, to give full screen-time to the photos, videos and belongings of Vivian Maier. Contrarily, John Maloof (or his hands, or his reflection in a mirror) is in front of the camera for a long part of his video. Especially disappointing for a theatre release.

The content of the film is also disappointing, and a bit sad.

Most of the information are already known from news articles, or from "Who took Nanny's pictures?". Moreover, despite owning 100000 negatives of Maier, Maloof is not showing a single piece of exclusive material in his documentary. Not once did the documentary attempt to define her art, or try to identify the artistic influences of Vivian Maier. Maloof depicts her like a kind of "idiot savant", an autistic genius totally disconnected from the arts of her time (BBC's documentary shows that Maier was influenced by Henri-Cartier Bresson and the surrealists - she even crossed Salvador Dali's path).

More worrying to me were 2 ideas conveyed by John Maloof in his video : - Maloof does not need journalists, he can write himself documentary about Vivian Maier himself. I think it is quite troubling that Maloof (the documentary maker) does not even try being unbiased and factual about Maloof (the businessman). For example, I would love to hear Maloof about his past real-estate activities in Chicago, why he bought so many belongings of Vivan Maier, and how he is earning his life today.

  • Maloof does need museum curators. Showing his MoMA letter, Maloof seems to state "museums refused Vivian's art initially, so I am (at least) as competent to manage the artistic heritage of Vivian Maier".

It is frightening that most photographs of Maier are under the control of a single person, who do not have much of an art diploma, but acts as a "chief curator" ("curator", noun 1. the person in charge of a museum 2. A MANAGER, superintendent ... what an irony).

So dear John (if I may), what about transferring every ownership and reproduction rights to a non-profit "Vivian Maier" foundation ?
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I'm really underwhelmed
nick949659 February 2015
After all the hype surrounding this film (and the Oscar nomination), I thought there might be a reason for it. But unfortunately, I didn't get it. I didn't see much that impressed me about the subject, the filmmaker (who was way too present) or the so-called "mystery" of why we really need to have a history of every aspect of Vivian's life.

So what if she was a Nanny? Big deal. So what if she never had a showing during her lifetime? So do most artists who die penniless. I think there is so much emphasis on how brilliant she was, that it was difficult to see what the pictures are all about: they are simple depictions of the world as seen through one woman's eyes. So therefore, it didn't matter one bit that she was not a recognized artist during her lifetime.

The constant interruption of the images by the filmmaker emoting in front of the camera is grating, and the repeated shots of him developing and printing, is annoying to say the least. All of it went way too far in making him seem like he was some kind of a savior who gave the world a gift -- and ignores the fact that Vivian was the kind of artist who only wanted to practice her art without all the hoopla and celebrity that follows most of the pretentious egocentric photographers like Annie Leibowitz or Cindy Sherman -- where the personality of the photographer becomes more important than the images themselves. At least Vivian didn't proclaim how brilliant she was, and expect everyone to reward her.

In all honesty, I failed to see any real innovation in terms of photography. Almost every image was almost like a direct analogy to Diane Arbus, who frankly did it better. Vivian was a good photographer, no question. But what bothers me is the ludicrous hype that has now grown up around the images -- and it all seems unwarranted. There is nothing about this documentary that suggests it should be nominated for an Oscar, and was, in my opinion, a waste of time.
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Great artist, but this documentary remains a double-edged sword
Horst_In_Translation27 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This documentary is director John Maloof's first work. While I thought, as a whole, it was a good piece of work, I have some criticisms too. First of all, when he interviews practically himself, it really gets a bit too self-promoting for my taste. yes he is the one who found the negatives, but still, there are ways this could have been handled with more class. Aside from him, it is an interesting snippet that the nephew of the famous late film critic Roger Siskel was also involved with directing here.

The story can be summarized quickly. A nurse took hundreds of thousands of photos during her lifetime and these were found and made her popular after her death. While I am okay with the photos being published, I am not really okay with the filmmaker's involvement in her life. She obviously was a very secretive woman and I just cannot accept the fact that Maloof did deep research into her life and past, such as traveling to France into a small village where she lived. Due to this research, we found out that she was a very eccentric lady who obviously had to fight with her inner demons, but it just feels wrong that the public knows about her loneliness, her hoarding or her violence against children now. She should only be judged for her work as a photographer in my opinion (except by the people who she was directly in contact with), but not for everything else by the broad masses. Especially the insight into her life as an old lady is pretty sad and I cannot imagine she would have wanted the public to know about any of it. Interviews are mostly with people she knew directly, including Phil Donahue and excluding a very random comment added by actor Tim Roth at one point.

All in all, I would still recommend this documentary, but the only thing which it is really worth watching for, are the photos, thankfully the center of the film. Most of these are simply wonderful and depict her extraordinary talent.
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She Always Had A Camera Around Her Neck
strong-122-47888530 April 2015
And, who, exactly, was Vivian Maier?... Well - That, my friends, is probably something which we'll never, ever know for sure.

But, with that said - I certainly must give John Maloof (this documentary's co-writer/co-director) a helluva lot of credit for his thoughtful and extensive investigation into the identity of this very private, yet incredibly prolific, street-photographer who, in her lifetime, took an estimated 150,000 photos (most of which were never developed).

It was only by a stroke of sheer luck that Maloof came across this surprise discovery of negatives amongst Vivian's possessions, which he had purchased at an auction (of her abandoned personal property) in 2007.

Vivian (who worked as a nanny for various families for nearly 40 years) apparently never showed her photographic work to anybody. But thanks to Maloof's uncovering of Vivian's personal possessions, it is now realized that her photographic-eye was truly exceptional.

For the most part, this documentary was quite an extraordinary experience for this viewer. But, alas, it lost itself some significant points due to there being just a little too much emphasis placed on determining whether Vivian was a kook, or not.

In conclusion - Without ever achieving the recognition that she so rightly deserved in her lifetime, Vivian Maier died in 2009 (at the age of 83) in the state of complete poverty.
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I Am A Camera - One of The Year's Best Films
george.schmidt4 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (2014) **** An intriguingly bittersweet documentary in the discovery by filmmaker John Maloof of a treasure trove of amazing photography and an unknown artist-who- should've been in the unlikely form of French-born nanny-for-hire Vivian Maier, an eccentric and at times frustrating source to pin point who she truly was, after Maloof goes on a journey into unraveling the shutterbug's lifelong mystery. Uncovering thousands of stills, undeveloped rolls of film, reels of film and dozens of puzzle pieces to fit into place, the viewer gleefully goes along for the journey of literally a lifetime. Beautiful and at times poignantly sad but still remarkable in 'what-could-have-been' into a what-should-have-been existence. One of the year's best films.
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Too Much Information can spoil the story
JonathanWalford17 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
It's no secret that a lot of famous and talented people were also not very nice or suffered from mental disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar-ism: Picasso, Chanel, Schumann, Edgar Allan Poe, Van Gogh, Peter Sellers, Mel Gibson... So when I watched Finding Vivian Maier, I wasn't surprised to find out that such a talented photographer as she should also suffer from many personality and mental disorders: paranoia, fear of intimacy and men, hoarding, and worst of all, accusations of child abuse from her former charges.

The story of how her negatives were recovered and discovered and how they were turned into several exhibitions, a documentary, and book, was a heart-warming tale. But before we have even seen a hundred of her images, we are bombarded with the unsavoury side of Miss Maier's character, and I think this hurts her reputation before it was even made. I would liked to have had a more rounded story that more clearly defined her background.

Maier was an excruciatingly private person with a sense of history, and piecing together what has been pieced together was obviously difficult, however, whole parts of her life seem to be a blur. Her photographs date back to 1951, according to the voice-over, but then photos she took of a French village in 1949 are shown - so there are some discrepancies that needed to be addressed by a little more research.
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Eighty minutes later and still an enigma
robin-benson31 October 2014
Well, not quite. Vivian Maier was a nanny (and I assume a good housekeeper and cook) mostly for families who lived in the Chicago suburbs. She was a very, very private person who had a passion for taking photos, especially street scenes around Chicago and some of these pictures were quite outstanding - and that's it. The problem for the art establishment and probably a lot of the public is that Ms Maier doesn't fit into the preconceived notions of a photographer. She seems not to have had any creative training or worked professionally as a photographer, had no book published, no exhibitions, no freelance commissions yet after her death a whole treasure trove of her wonderful creative work is slowly being revealed.

I enjoyed this documentary made by John Maloof (who seems to have acquired the largest amount of her work) and Charlie Siskel and their credible attempt to piece the life of Maier together. Fortunately it avoids the pitfalls of contemporary documentaries with its quick editing of close-up talking heads, inappropriate background music and non-relevant film clips to link sequences together. There are plenty of people talking here, the children, now adults, who she looked after, photographers Joel Meyerowitz and Mary Ellen Mark, neighbors who knew her when she was old but they are all left to tell their stories straight to the camera.

Many of her photos are shown in the film and of course they are wonderful to look at but her work really can't be considered strong enough to change any notions of the meaning of photography. Her street scenes have brilliant framing and subject matter but so did the work of several dozen camera folk of the New York School and the Photo League plus their work has an added significance because of its strong emotional punch. Maier's work is much more straight reportage which is why I like it so much.

The film is a worthwhile introduction to an intriguing photographer who existed outside the conventional photographic world.
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"Informatively biographical, at times astonishing..."
SindreKaspersen3 September 2014
Screenwriters, producers and directors John Maloof and Charlie Siskel's documentary feature which they co-wrote and produced, is inspired by real events in the life of a 20th and 21st century American street photographer. It premiered in the Documentaries section at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival in 2013, was screened in the Panorama section at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival in 2014 and is an American production which was shot on locations in America, France and England. It tells the story about a photographer who in the late 2000s in America, found some property which belonged to a nanny.

Distinctly and engagingly directed by filmmakers John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, this finely paced documentary which is narrated by John Maloof and interchangeably from multiple viewpoints, draws a gripping and multifaceted portrayal of secretive activities which began in early 20th century France. While notable for its versatile milieu depictions and reverent cinematography by cinematographer John Maloof, this narrative-driven story about the eccentricities, family relations, interpersonal relations, identities and views on humanity and men of the person in question where interviews with friends, family members, photographers and acquaintances communicates objective stories about someone who got significantly near whilst keeping a pivotal distance, depicts an extraordinary and unsettlingly in-depth study of character and contains a timely instrumental score.

This somewhat historic, humorous and atmospheric found photography documentary which is set mostly in America and France in the 21st century, where an, according to this representation, reclusive and autonomous person is given to the limelight and where the unpublished work of a daughter and sister who managed to remain a mystery for as long as she could is presented, is impelled and reinforced by its fragmented narrative structure, substantial and cinematically appropriate character development, rhythmic continuity, psychological undertones, noteworthy examination of its central theme and the bilateral photographs. An informatively biographical, at times astonishing and ingeniously photographic documentary feature.
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Shutter-eye Land
writers_reign26 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I don't watch too many documentaries but on this occasion I was swayed by several favourable reviews. Maloof is shrewd enough to opt for a title that although ultimately misleading (we don't really 'find' Vivian maier) is a serviceable 'hook' designed to catch the odd floating viewer. If, as Maloof does, we divide the footage in two, with one half spent interviewing people who met, knew, or were nannied by the elusive Maier, and the other wallowing in what can only represent a handful of the literally thousands of photographs she left behind then the photos win hands down and more than justify the film. A great part of its left-handed, quirky charm is that virtually all the interviewees are a tad off-centre, not unlike, of course, Maier's favourite subjects.
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Jaw dropping
christian-3576625 September 2018
Being a documentary filmmaker myself I have to say this was without question one of the best documentaries I've ever seen! What a quirky, awkward, marvelous figure Vivian was! If only she knew how talented she was! Cheers to the whole team who made this movie! This was jaw dropping!
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Amazing story
n-m-bertin3 September 2018
Warning: Spoilers
If I had to rate Vivian's photography, I'd give it a 10 no problem. But I'm rating the documentary here. Her story is fascinating, and nicely told. It is a complete story, from the discovery of the documents as told by John Maloof, to the very emotional exposition in the village where she partially grew up in the French Alps. It is dual story : the story of her life, and the story of her photography. They're disconnected, as her photography was only discovered after her death. You get great interviews from photographers, as well as from children she took care of. It is both a fascinating and sad story, of an artist who was probably damaged during her youth and evolved to be this lonely yet touching human being. But it's also the story of John Maloof, who didn't let go and really went above and beyond to tell her story to the world. It's not a professional documentary by any means, it has a "TV like" quality and could have been done slightly better. For example the guy who says she has a fake French accent and claims he's an expert but won't show us his thesis is weird... It should have been cut off. I'm French, lived in Australia for years, and can tell a French accent. Hers was genuine, although clearly exagerated. It wasn't fake though, maybe she had a bit of German in there from her Austrian father. If you don't know Vivian Maier, it's a must watch, whether you're interested in photography or not.
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Fascinating and mysterious documentary
lyninbyron2 August 2018
Great story discovered and told by a curious young man who's short life experience had prepared him well to recognize a fantastic find and research it and film it. Well done!
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Life story of a Nanny who clicked photographs like a pro.
k-tnahsarp30 March 2018
Finding Vivian Maier is one of the most intriguing documentary. It follows mysterious life of a Nanny who clicked brilliant photographed only to be found after her death.
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