Making a film about a man, Martin Margiela, who’s always refused to be photographed and interviewed (to the point that some doubt his existence) presented quite the conundrum for documentarian Alison Chernick. Indeed, as she revealed to Hint, the most challenging aspect was “telling the story without any footage of your subject — and trying not to make a boring talking-head film.”
“He lives a very private life and my intention was not to impose on that,” she said about the short documentary, aptly titled The Artist Is Absent. “[But] when I saw the archival footage from the maison, I knew this would be anything but boring.” For the film — currently premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival — Chernick said she was able to correspond with the elusive Belgian via email; Skype was, of course, out of the question. He gave her a list of trusted colleagues who respect his vision and his strict work ethos of absolute anonymity, e.g. Jean Paul Gaultier, Raf Simons, Suzy Menkes, and others from his original crew.
Chernick herself does not have a background in fashion, but was familiar with and admired the work of the designer, who retired from his namesake label in 2009 and whose current whereabouts are unknown. (The house is now owned by Italian conglomerate Only the Brave and designed by John Galliano.) The objective of the 12-minute doc, produced by Yoox Group, was simply to “share his genius with the masses and inspire originality.” She adds: “I think technology now and iPhone video, for example, can make even your grandmother a documentary filmmaker. The trick is finding some sort of passion or interest in a subject because at the end of the day, it is a labor of love.”
Update 4/27/15: As planned, following its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, the short documentary is now viewable in its entirety…