This documentary introduces us to David Datuna a Georgian born artist who left his native country as a child seeking the freedom to express himself that he felt only America could afford him.
A veritable darling of the New York art scene Datuna was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer shortly after the documentary makers had started filming. After much soul searching it was decided they would continue the film which focuses primarily on Datuna’s ‘Portrait of America’ piece which he was working on at the time. Datuna didn’t want to let his family or co-collaborators to know about his diagnosis; citing the need to focus on the work and not wanting to burden them with it during that time. It would have been refreshing to see the filmmakers press Datuna more on this issue; was he protecting his family or protecting his ability to do the work at any cost?
We are shown Datuna in his studio working closely with technologists; wanting to use his unique style combined with new tech Google glass to give each user a unique experience of the history of America and what it means to be an American. Interspersed with anecdotes from his childhood and his life before success we also follow him into treatment rooms and wandering around his local area.
This is a fairly standard format for a documentary but it does give an interesting insight into an artist at work. If Datuna himself were not so engaging it would not have measured up as well as it does. He is funny and playful; at one point ‘borrowing’ a bike off a woman on a bridge just to go on a little joyride. His childlike wonder at life in general and being able to work so freely is apparent in his enthusiasm when speaking of what drives him; his face lights up when he talks about his work.
His piece ‘Portrait of America’ is compelling as a work of art and a historical document. The idea of a piece of art looking back at the viewer raises some interesting questions; being able to interact with the art excites his audience and the filmmakers alike.
Datuna says that you can express something in art you can’t express in words and this is what he tries to do in his pieces. This film is ultimately a portrait of an immigrant who is in love with America, and about how America is in love with itself. Datuna’s ethos is to never give up and his character drives the film to a satisfying conclusion although it is almost a propaganda piece; about the American dream as well about the boy whose father was arrested for listening to Elvis Presley in the old USSR. It could have gone further but is definitely worth a watch.