James Marsh - True/False Film Fest James Marsh - True/False Film Fest

James Marsh


“Life should be lived on the edge of life,” the acrobat Philippe Petit said. “You have to exercise rebellion: to refuse to tape yourself to rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself.” Applied to filmmaking, that philosophy neatly summarizes James Marsh’s career. Marsh, who documented Petit in his Oscar-winning Man On Wire, has done for nonfiction cinema what Petit did for wire-walking: elevating it to dizzying new levels of craft, daring and sophistication, transforming a familiar form of expression into something new and thrilling. Marsh began directing inventive, idiosyncratic documentaries for the BBC in 1990 with The Animator of Prague, a portrait of a kindred spirit, Jan Svankmajer, with whom Marsh shares a penchant for intricately constructed films laced with perverse irony. Troubleman (1994) revisited Marvin Gaye’s death at the hands of his father, and The Burger and The King (1996) told of Elvis Presley’s intense relationship with food. Wisconsin Death Trip (1999) about a depraved, turn-of-the-century Wisconsin town, provided the unmatchable blend of poetry and precision that has become Marsh’s hallmark. Man on Wire employed the structure of a heist film to construct a tense, deeply moving, gorgeous, and mathematically precise film. Man on Wire represents the pinnacle of what we might call the New Documentary, films blending nonfiction techniques with those pulled from fiction film, preferencing revelation over fact counting and deeper, emotional truths over preservation of historical record. The film definitively places Marsh into the small but growing pantheon of creative nonfiction filmmakers who mine the endless richness of the human experience. After success with fiction films, the dark religious gothic The King (2005, with Gael Garcia Barnal), and the second chapter of the ultra-tense Red Riding (2009), Marsh returns to T/F with the most eagerly awaited documentary of the year, Project Nim. It is an honor and pleasure to welcome him back. (JS)