Cinema Speak with Sydney-Chanele: AFI DOCS FESTIVAL: Jennifer Grausman – ‘Art and Craft’

Cinema Speak with Sydney-Chanele is a new column that embraces the landscape of film, filmmakers, and film festivals. This will be a canvas where film reviews, and in-depth interviews into the filmmaking process will be shared, and the world of cinephiles will be celebrated. A dedicated space to cinema outside the mainstream, the emphasis of Cinema Speak with Sydney-Chanele will be foreign cinema, independent films, documentaries and the filmmakers who make them.

AFI DOCS (June 18-22, 2014) is a 5-day international documentary film festival that serves as a launch pad for independent documentaries and has built a reputation for presenting the best new documentaries to the Washington, D.C. area. Now in its 12th year, AFI DOCS is the only festival of its kind to take these compelling and engaging films and connect audiences and documentary filmmakers together with the nation’s “changemakers.”

Jennifer Grausman

Jennifer Grausman.
Jennifer Grausman.

Award winning filmmaker Jennifer Grausman is the Director and Producer of the feature documentary Art and Craft, which premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. Picked up by Oscilloscope Laboratories for theatrical distribution, the film also directed by Sam Cullman and Co-director Mark Becker, is a fascinating look into the life and work of notorious art forger Mark Landis. Grausman is the Director and Producer of the Emmy Award-nominated feature documentary, Pressure Cooker (2008), a film that garnered awards from festivals across the country and was the Co-Producer of Eric Mendelsohn’s feature, 3 Backyards (2009.) She is the Producer of eight short films.

The native New Yorker is a graduate of the MFA film program at Columbia University and was honored with the 2005 Best Producer Award. She also was Co-Director of The Screenwriters Colony in Nantucket, MA from 2010 to 2012. Prior to graduate school, Jennifer Grausman was the Manager of Exhibition and Film Funding at The Museum of Modern Art, and she earned her BFA in Art History at Duke University.
What was there an experience or specific event when you knew you wanted to be a filmmaker?

I actually grew up aspiring to work in the art world. After studying art history in undergrad, I worked in fund-raising at my favorite museum – MoMA. While I was there though, I realized that what I really wanted to do was make movies and so I went to film school at Columbia imagining I would work in the fiction feature world.

After graduating, I began working in production, but soon thereafter I jumped into making a documentary, yet another new world to me. Three years later I completed directing Pressure Cooker with Mark Becker. I decided to go back to writing and working in narrative film and I honestly didn’t know if I would make another documentary until I read the article about Mark Landis in the NY Times and couldn’t stop thinking about it.

What was the most valuable aspect of your film school experience?

I went to the Columbia MFA program and it was a life-changing experience for me. Since I was completely switching careers, and did not have a background in film, my learning curve at school was exponential. And I still count my classmates and teachers as some of my best friends and collaborators.

When did you consider yourself a professional filmmaker?

I considered myself a professional filmmaker once I finished and sold Pressure Cooker

AFI DOCS Festival Film

Mark Landis in 'Art and Craft.’
Mark Landis in ‘Art and Craft.’

What is the plot of your film at the AFI DOCS Festival?

Art and Craft follows prolific art forger Mark Landis at the very moment his thirty-year ruse is exposed. What at first glance seems like a generous act of philanthropy turns out to be one of the most widespread and unusual cases of deception in the art world.

How did you first encounter this story and what was the determining factor in wanting to make a film?

I read a story in The New York Times about Mark Landis, an eccentric art forger who gave away his fakes instead of selling them. And then I couldn’t stop thinking about it – what kind of art forger donates his work to museums instead of selling it? The story particularly resonated with me since I grew up in the art world – my uncle is a sculptor and my aunt owned a gallery – and I worked at The Museum of Modern Art before I began making films.

So I showed the article to both Sam Cullman (Director, Producer, and Cinematographer) and Mark Becker (Co-Director and Editor) and they were intrigued as well. Once Sam and I had filmed with both Mark Landis and his pursuer Matthew Leininger, we all knew there was a story to be told.

Does this film have a distributor? If so, when is the theatrical release?

Oscilloscope Laboratories. The film will be in theaters nationwide this fall.

What was your biggest surprise in the making of the film?

The biggest surprise was how much humor there is in this story – in part because Mark Landis himself has wonderful comic timing

Inpirations & A Deeper Look

Truth or Perception – It is easier for a female filmmaker to get a documentary made than a feature film. Why?

I think it is easier for anyone (male or female) to begin a documentary than a feature film. Since you need fewer funds to start a documentary project and you generally don’t have to pull together a crew and actors at a specific moment in time, documentaries offer more flexibility. The challenge is finishing the documentary and getting it out into the world.

What are your three favorite feature films? (Any genre)

Annie Hall, All the President’s Men, and Sabrina (the original.)

What needs to be done to change the culture of the disproportionate number of female directors getting studio backing to make films?

I’m not sure – I’m pretty outside the studio system right now.

What has been your biggest struggle with making films?

Not that it’s novel, but finding a great story and then finding the funds to make a documentary about it have been the biggest struggle for me as a filmmaker.

How have you grown as filmmaker since your first film and how have you changed?

Since I have a narrative film background, I started making Pressure Cooker without any practical documentary experience. And thus, I learned a lot through the difficulties of making the film itself and also from my collaborator, Mark Becker. Though documentary and narrative are different beasts, I soon understood that for both you need strong characters, a dynamic story, and a compelling subtext.



Art and Craft (Running Time: 89 min.)

Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online.

Sunday, June 22, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. at AFI Silver

Preceded by: FONT MEN

Dress Code, Chile 2013, 10 minutes, Spanish with English subtitles.

Go behind the scenes with two typeface geniuses and former business competitors who have joined forces to take the world of fonts by storm. There is far more to the art of font design than meets the eye. You will never look at Times New Roman the same way again.

AFI Silver is located at 8633 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD 20910.

Metro: AFI Silver Theatre is walking distance from the Silver Spring Metro Stop on the Red Line.

Parking: There are two public garages that offer convenient access to AFI DOCS: the Wayne Avenue. Garage between Georgia Avenue and Fenton Street, and the Town Square Garage at the corner of Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street.


Cinema Speak with Sydney-Chanele: AFI DOCS FESTIVAL: Lucy Walker The Lion’s Mouth Opens by Sydney-Chanele Dawkins.

Cinema Speak with Sydney-Chanele: AFI DOCS FESTIVAL: Cheryl Furjanic – ‘Back on Board: Greg Louganis’.

Previous articleTop Scene Stealers of the Week-The Week Ending June 21, 2014
Next article‘Pride and Prejudice’ at Castaways Repertory Theatre’s Youth Theater and Homeschool Theatre Troupe
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins is an award-winning feature filmmaker, film curator, film festival producer and a theater/film critic and arts writer. She also serves as an impassioned advocate for the Arts as Chair of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts in Alexandria, VA. Fearless. Tenacious. Passionate. Loyal. These characteristics best describe Sydney-Chanele's approach to life, her enthusiasm for live theater and the arts, and her cinephile obsession with world cinema. Her successful first film, 'Modern Love is Automatic' premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and made its European debut at the Edinburgh Film Festival. She recently completed her third film, the animated - 'The Wonderful Woes of Marsh' - which is rounding the film festival circuit. In 2013, Sydney-Chanele produced the box office hit,Neil Simon's Rumors for the McLean Community Players at Alden Theater, Her next producing effort in 2014 is Pearl Cleage's 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' for Port City Playhouse. Programmer for Cinema Art Bethesda and Co Chair of the Film Program for Artomatic, Sydney-Chanele is the past Festival Director of the Alexandria Film Festival, the Reel Independent Film Festival,and Female Shorts & Video Showcase. She is active in leadership and programming positions with DC Metro area Film Festivals including: Filmfest DC, DC Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, Arabian Sights Film festival, and AFI Docs. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions - [Note: Sydney-Chanele Dawkins passed away on July 8, 2015, at age 47, after a battle with Breast Cancer.]


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here