The Art Star And The Sudanese Twins

The Art Star And The Sudanese Twins


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Remember when Madonna's adoption of Malawian David Banda played out in the press? Or Brad Pitt and Angelina's high-profile adoptions? They were not alone in heading to Africa to extend their family.

Artist Vanessa Beecroft came across twins Madit and Mongor Akot when she went to the Darfur region of Sudan in the course of her work. Deciding to photograph them as part of her art - and to be filmed doing so - she also came to believe that she should 'save' them from their fate and make them part of her family.

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Not long into this documentary, you begin to think in double punctuation marks, namely ?!

She admits to being depressed and having OCD?! The twins have a father?! She already has kids of her own?! Her husband doesn't have a clue she's planning to adopt?!

Despite all of the above, this is far from a hatchet job on Beecroft. In fact, as the film progresses, she is seen to be constantly worrying about the very things that the audience are. "I feel like I'm manipulating, objectifying them," she says, right around the time she creates an elaborate Madonna and children image with them that will stick with you long after the credits roll. Later, she says: "I'm afraid of the judgment of the world." Which begs, the question: why are you playing this entire farrago out on camera?

The reasons, one suspects, are that by letting the cameras in she hopes to find some sort of vindication for her actions. Despite moments of self-reflection - "I feel I'm stealing his children," Beecroft says after meeting Madit and Mongor's father - there are glimpses of utter obsession and a total lack of self-awareness, such as her pushing ahead at photographing the twins naked in a church despite it being clearly offensive to the locals or suggestions of money changing hands in exchange for time with the boys.

This is documentary as confessional, as we see Beecroft seeking absolution, not just from priests - one of whom pointedly observes that removing children from Sudan, where they have extended family who can care for them, is akin to a modern-day form of slavery - but from the viewer.

The further the documentary runs, the more you become aware of a gaping chasm between what Beecroft thinks she is doing and believes her attitudes are, and the havoc she is, in fact, wreaking not only on the lives of the Akot family, but also on the Sudanese justice system and, equally importantly, on her own family.

Director Pietra Bretkelly deserves plaudits for keeping her documentary well-rounded. There is plenty of evidence that Beecroft is not a "bad person", but rather one whose sensibilities are liable to leave her isolated in her misguided blindness. It becomes clear she is a product of and, in some ways, slave to her own past. Although this documentary is about one person, Bretkelly paints a broader picture of attitudes to Africa in the west and raises issues we would all do well to consider.

Reviewed on: 16 Jul 2008
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The Art Star And The Sudanese Twins packshot
An artist's obssessive attempt to adopt twins in Darfur.

Director: Pietra Brettkelly

Writer: Pietra Brettkelly

Year: 2007

Runtime: 109 minutes

Country: New Zealand

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