The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday December 4th

In search for truth, 'My Kid' finds philosophy

Most doting parents are thrilled to hang their children's "masterpieces" on the refrigerator. But most don't go so far as to sell their children's works for thousands of dollars. Before her fifth birthday, Marla Olmstead already had received international attention for her abstract paintings and had been accused of fraud. Amir Bar-Lev's intriguing documentary "My Kid Could Paint That" succeeds in creating a film that highlights the ambiguities of art, creation and human nature. Marla is an adorable preschooler who began showing signs of artistic talent at age 3. While her mother Laura is constantly apprehensive about the growing media attention, father Mark seems much more excited about bringing his family into the limelight. But the excitement and success of Marla's paintings comes to a halt after the family is featured on "60 Minutes." A child psychologist on the program suggests that Marla is being coached and possibly assisted by her father, and that the paintings are not the original works of genius the art world has accepted them to be. When Marla's talent comes under serious scrutiny, Bar-Lev makes the risky decision to insert himself more directly into the film instead of trying to maintain an objective distance. The mother's dialogues are especially interesting when she is no longer simply relaying her story but speaking directly to Bar-Lev. Throughout the film, Laura tries to make the best decisions for her daughter and protect her childhood innocence from titles such as "prodigy." She lets Bar-Lev into their lives in the hopes that he can restore the beauty and innocence to Marla's story - something the filmmaker admittedly is unable to do completely. Instead, the documentarian chooses not to settle for a straight answer and alternately highlights the ambiguities that surround art as a concept. Modern art is often criticized for being something a toddler could produce with finger paint, so of course it's blissfully ironic that this time a child is the artist. And what if Mark is helping Marla? Bar-Lev prods Mark, trying to uncover the truth about whether or not he has been coaching his daughter. But while the answer remains unclear, what is more curious in the context of the film is how much it matters and to whom. "My Kid Could Paint That" is a fascinating film that embraces the complexities of the tale rather than squelching them in the search for absolute truth. Contact the Diversions Editor at dive@unc.edu.


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