I do love art. When I see a painting that speaks to me I want to take it home and hang it on my wall. I’m not a huge collector but I have a few paintings that I never get tired of looking at. They’re originals and their signed by the artist. When I look at a painting I always try to imagine what inspired the piece. What mood was the artist in and are they channeling something larger than ourselves. The great thing about art is that it can be interpreted differently from one observer to another. Only the artist knows how the piece was inspired and the secrets they hold. When I see a unique piece I like to think of it as a puzzle because the use of colour will represent something, the shapes will represent something else and the overall composition represents the entire story.
Imagine now, that you are in a gallery and you have fallen in love with a painting. It moves you, it gives you goose bumps and you have to have it because it’s the only one like it… or is it? The thought of it being a forgery doesn’t even enter your mind. You’ve spent a considerable amount of money on it and the seller has certainly done their due diligence in assuring that it’s not a fake, right? The truth of the matter is that not every art dealer is aware or is honest about the origin of a painting. You’re putting your faith in them and they take your money with a smile.
Enter Norval Morrisseau, a famous Canadian Indigenous artist. Self taught and referred to as the Picasso of the North. He created works depicting the legends of his people, the cultural and political tensions between native Canadian and European traditions, his existential struggles and his deep spirituality and mysticism (referenced from Wikipedia). He passed away in December of 2007 but his paintings have continued to live on. Unfortunately though, some of them live on through forgeries, which is the basis for the documentary, There Are No Fakes. Jamie Kastner created the documentary and was generous enough to talk to us about the inspiration behind the film.
“What is it about a subject that peaks your interest enough to want to make a documentary?”
“I guess it’s a combination of an interesting subject and having enough layers that require me to spend a few years working on it. It also has to be sellable because I still have to put food on the table. The last two films I made had a different direction and were more in the world of crime and politics. They were both stories that found me.”
“How did you get involved with Kevin Hearn (Barenaked Ladies member) in uncovering this story?”
“I actually knew Kevin from high school. We were friends and even played in a band together briefly. We had been in touch over the years and I knew that he had played with Lou Reed. After Lou Reed had died I got in touch with him to see if he’d be interested in collaborating with me on a documentary on Lou Reed’s life. That would’ve been 2015, 2016 and late 2017. The Lou Reed documentary wasn’t in the cards at that time but he told me he was currently involved in a court case. He showed me some newspaper coverage that his case had received and I was immediately intrigued by the story. It’s a complicated story with many tentacles, twists and turns to the story. When I heard the bones of it, it seemed to good to be true. You couldn’t make this stuff up. There were many challenges that came with it. It involves a lot of very litigious characters and they want to protect their investors. As the story moves on and gets deeper into the crime world there were some scary characters.”
“How many Norval Morrisseau paintings were you able to track down?”
“It wasn’t really my mission to track down the paintings. The Norval Morrisseau painting that Kevin Hearn had bought is really the way into a larger tale. The dubious aspect of Kevin’s painting is characteristic of a species of work that is being sold as a 45 Morrisseau. They estimate the number of these disputed paintings to be at 3000. If you’re conservatively estimating the average price on each painting as 10,000.00 then we’re talking about potentially, a 30 million dollar art fraud scam, making it the largest in Canada’s history.”
“Has this story been in the news recently?”
“The story has been covered. Morrisseau died in 2007 and Kevin bought the painting in 2006 and by 2012 legal proceedings were well on their way. There have been articles out that have raised the spectra of doubt about this species of Morrisseau paintings. As we discovered this is not the first lawsuit about one of these paintings by any means, it’s just the highest profile one because Kevin is a celebrity. Part of what’s interesting about this story is that it’s a lot harder to prove something is fake than to assume that it’s real and the onus is on the person claiming it’s a fake. Having watched the film with an audience a couple of times there is a lot of laughs in the first hour of the film and quite a bit of dark humor that emerges through this absurdity of all of this wrangling. As we get deeper into the root of where it’s all coming from things get a lot darker. There is quite a wide and surprising range of tones in this film and it’s been quite gratifying to see the early audiences absolutely with it every step of the way.”
“When did you begin documenting the story?”
“I think I first heard about it and met with Kevin in the fall of 2015. It took a year to raise the money and I started shooting in Dec. of 2017 and was shooting and editing for close to a year.”
“When does the film come to Vancouver?”
“It will be opening in Vancity on June 14th and it will be there for much of the week and on the Knowledge Network eventually after that.”
“Did Kevin Hearn ever get satisfaction?”
“It’s at the end of the film and can be determined by googling. He was not successful in his lawsuit but he has appealed and the results should be coming out anytime now.”
“What was your involvement in the 75th anniversary WWII documentary, D-Day in 14 stories?”
“I was co-director of that film and it’s been an interesting part of my life for the past year or so. There was a tight deadline on it because of the 75th anniversary so it was all hands on deck situation and was produced by Yap films. Because of the tight deadline, roles were divided up and Robin Bicknell directed the recreation in the field and I basically wrote the script for the film and directed the edit. I’ve never made a war film before but I came up with a structure based on the intimate personal stories from people on that day and then I strung it together to form a picture of that day.”
If you’re a fan of Indigenous art or Norval Morrisseau’s work then you owe it to yourself to see the documentary playing at Vancity theatre, I think Norval would appreciate it.