Where Creativity Is the Star
Juri Koll’s Venice Institute of Contemporary Art hosts a film festival exploring how artists think, work and survive
By Kristin Marguerite Doidge
When conservationist-turned-developer Abbot Kinney first embarked on his Venice of America project, he wanted to create an arts-and-culture destination for visitors from all corners of the world. Instead, the public demanded something else: a spectacle.
Venice artist Juri Koll hopes to satisfy both desires on Saturday with the Fine Arts Film Festival, screening 21 films that each tell a unique story about how art is birthed and sustained through a fragile ecosystem of creators, dealers and collectors.
It’s an especially relevant topic these days in Venice, where artists have been so successful at infusing creativity into the neighborhood’s DNA that rapidly rising real estate costs are forcing many of them out and threatening to make the area an untenable place to live and work for all but the most commercially successful creatives.
“Artists are crucial to what Venice is, and Venice artists are crucial to what Los Angeles is. The economic value of Venice as a tourist destination is sustained by artists,” says Koll. “Our whole city is built on creative people. Everything we touch has been touched by an artist in some way.”
A painter and filmmaker, Koll is the founder and director of the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art (ViCA), a grassroots organization dedicated to keeping artists in Venice by helping them show and sell their work.
He sees the Fine Arts Film Festival as an opportunity to reinvigorate discussion around the future of the arts in Venice as some of its longtime artists depart — notably the recent evictions of painter/ceramicist William Attaway and sculptor/photographer Alberto Bevacqua from the 300 block of Sunset Avenue to make way for commercial office space.
Following a sold-out screening of his own L.A.-shot documentary “Lisa Adams: As It Appears to Be” at the Crest Theater in Westwood last summer, Koll began planning a ViCA-produced film festival about the art world. Shortly thereafter, he met curator and consultant Lynn Holley through fellow ViCA colleague Peter Frank (also a curator and critic); Holley was behind the first Fine Arts Film Festival in Santa Barbara in 2010.
Organizers chose to screen 21 films out of more than 100 submitted from around the globe, including a feature shot in Los Angeles. Director Liz Hinlein’s “Other People’s Children,” starring Chad Michael Murray (“One Tree Hill”) and Diane Marshall-Green (“90210”), was shot in the galleries, studios, streets and alleyways of downtown and makes its L.A. premiere during the Fine Arts Film Festival.
They chose six prizewinners: Best Narrative Feature, “Vanitas” (Belgium); Best Documentary Feature, “Curious Worlds: The Art and Imagination of David Beck” (North Carolina); Best Short, “Sonia’s Story” (Italy); Best Documentary Short, “Big Head” (Chile); Best Director, Logan Stone for “Blue Notes” (Chicago); and Best Student Film, “The Emotional Dimensions of the James River”( Virginia).
An Audience Award winner is to be announced during a red carpet gathering at the conclusion of the festival.
“Every single one of these films is a labor of love,” Koll says. “We were just overwhelmed by the extent of the creative output in what’s normally considered a commercial medium.”
The festival’s international flavor demonstrates that Venice is an international magnet for the arts — but to sustain that culture will require buy-in, support and investment from Venice’s new wave of tech and real estate interests, says Sandy Bleifer, founder of the Venice ARTBLOCK collective.
“I feel very strongly that these film festivals and these exhibits are very important for the community of Venice — especially this film festival which highlights the artists and how they struggle to work in various conditions, which underscores the value of the arts,” Bleifer says. “The artists in Venice are somewhat endangered at this point. Every day we lose artists left and right.”
Attaway says Koll’s mission is essential to what Attaway believes the “true heart of what Venice is”: a spectacle. Documenting the past, present and possible futures of this community — and its dreams — has his full support.
“It’s exciting someone’s grabbing the lead, taking the bull by the horns,” Attaway says. “I commend Juri for doing that.”
Koll recently learned that the mayor’s office will present a certificate of recognition to ViCA and the Fine Arts Film Festival for representing L.A.’s unique diversity. But this isn’t about winning awards.
“People do these things because they care,” Koll says. “It’s infectious.”
The Fine Arts Film Festival runs from 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, at Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice. The VIP red carpet begins at 6 p.m. and special awards gala begins at 9 p.m. VIP gala screening passes are $35; all-day screening passes are $25; single screening passes are $15. For a schedule of screenings and to buy tickets, visit thefineartsfilmfestival.com