It's documentaries about famous figures always make me realize just how limited my views on certain subjects tend to be. With Revelando Sebastião Salgado (whose English title is Meeting Sebastião Salgado), the subject is photography, and more specifically, a man who I was formerly unacquainted with: renowned Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado.
The film by Betse de Paula is simply laid out, with a grand portion of it taking place in Salgado's own Paris home two years ago in a massive conversation about his work. Not only does the conversation span his massive career, which began in 1973, but also what led him to the lifestyle he became so accustomed to. He jokes about his work in economics -- his boss saying "we'd all love to be photographers" and scoffing at his aspirations -- and how it all began because his wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, bought herself a camera.
Salgado's anecdotes, as well as the photos that accompany them, are astounding. His tales of ambition are interesting to hear, but the way he evolves as a photographer directly coincides with the paths down which life takes him.
Of the glimpses we get of his color photography, something he's sworn off of entirely since the '80s, the most jarring is when we see how close he was to Ronald Reagan during the assassination attempt on him. As for his black-and-white photography, every frame proves to be an appealing one, even when it's depicting the heart-wrenching material he witnessed during his travels as a social documentary photographer.
While the subject is more than enough to keep the audience's attention, especially for those interested in having their art doused with tidbits of historical background, the filmmaker disappoints a bit when it comes to style. For a man so fascinated and preoccupied with black-and-white photography, it's almost a shame the documentary itself isn't shot that way. Instead, de Paula sticks to giving every frame of their conversation a gloomy blue hue, only releasing the film from its cold grasp every time a photograph pops up. The stills provide a breath of fresh air, but then it's gone in a flash. Even the constantly appearing globe that depicts the locations he travels (one of the film's most unnecessary add-ons) shows up in the same color.
But the greatest crime that Meeting Sebastião Salgado commits is that it doesn't expose the world to nearly enough of Salgado's photography. With the abundance of fascinating work that flashes by for under three seconds per photo, it leaves one longing to get a closer look at the beauty in each frame. Few times will I ever complain about a documentary being too short, as most subjects aren't as far-reaching as filmmakers think they are, but this is a man who deserves more exposition than the 75 minutes he's afforded.
Still, Betse de Paula's documentary does offer a fair amount of insight into a photographer from his very own perspective, which is more than one can say for many works on artists that are crafted looking from the outside in.
Meeting Sebastião Salgado will be playing at the Miami Beach Cinematheque on Sunday, August 17th, at 7 p.m. as part of the 18th Brazilian Film Festival of Miami. Tickets cost $8-$11. Visit mbcinema.com or brazilianfilmfestival.com.
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