My Kid Could Paint That
Winter 2008 Documentary series
Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 7:00pm
Directed by Amir Bar-Lev
Starring Anthony Brunelli, Elizabeth Cohen, Michael Kimmelman, Laura Olmstead, Mark Olmstead, Amir Bar-Lev, and Marla Olmstead
Rated PG ·
United States / United Kingdom
In this fascinating documentary, filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev chronicles the rise and fall of child artist Marla Olmstead, the daughter of a dental hygienist and factory worker from upstate New York. Marla was all of four years old when she sold her first abstract painting. When the New York Times published a piece about her prodigious talent, she became an overnight media sensation, and her paintings quickly began to sell for up to five figures. While many lauded her amazing ability — and even likened her to Picasso — her success also sparked heated debates about the true value of abstract art.
Bar-Lev begins to explore this idea, as well as our culture’s fascination with child prodigies, when the film suddenly takes a sharp and unexpected turn. The impetus is a piece on 60 Minutes in which Charlie Rose suggests that Marla may not in fact be the sole creator of her work, and that her father — himself an amateur painter — is really the mastermind. The Olmsteads are stunned by the implication, and Marla quickly falls from grace with the art world. What follows is an unsettling but nonetheless riveting examination of Marla’s family. Bar-Lev suddenly finds himself in a bit of an ethical conundrum: while he would like to get at the truth for the sake of the film, he is hesitant to cause further trouble for the Olmsteads, who have granted him intimate access to their lives. He ultimately leaves it up to viewers to decide what really happened — though for many, there will likely be little doubt as to the authenticity of Marla’s work. As a documentary, the film works beautifully, raising a lot of big questions about truth in art, and even about the exploitive nature of documentary film. All this because of a four-year-old girl and her paint set.