“Marty’s Cooper’s camera captures the corners of life which are often forgotten about.”
— quote from the film
And now: Martha Cooper will not be forgotten . . . thanks to Selina Miles.
Filmmaker Selina Miles — as did her idol and inspiration — began her career as a photojournalist and film documentarian chronicling the works of graffiti writers in her native Brisbane, Australia. Those endeavors lead to an opportunity for Miles to work as an editor for the spray paint brand Ironlak, then as a music video director, for bands such as the Australian hip-hop group The Hilltop Hoods. In 2013 Miles directed Limitless, a successful, short hyper-lapse video released on You Tube. In 2016 she began self-producing a short-series, Portrait of an Artist, a portrait of artist Guido van Helten. Those works led to the creation of The Wanderers, a documentary series on Australian street artists, which premiered on the ABC iView platform in 2017.
And those efforts have culminated in this: Miles’s feature film debut.
“A documentary is a painting. Not a photograph.”
— Selina Miles, Radio Juxtapoz podcast
Released in time for Women’s History Month, Martha: A Picture Story is a telling portrait of Martha Cooper, a trailblazing female graffiti artist and subculture street photographer.
A noted American photojournalist, Martha Cooper became the first female staff photographer for the New York Post during the 1970s, but broke out on the international stage with her chronicles of the New York City graffiti scene of the 1970s and 1980s. The film begins with Martha and her camera, snapping shots on a solo motorcycle trip through east Asia in 1963 at the age of 20 and up through her work in providing a voice to unknown street artists and bringing them their own brand of artistic acclaim.
What I enjoyed about this film is that it’s more than just a cold, mechanical biographer-subject relationship studio product. Miles’s admiration and respect — and the friendship between Miles and Cooper — shines through. A telling moment of the film is when Miles digs up lost footage from the ’80s that Cooper forgot about and has never seen. It’s a very touching moment; a joyous moment as you realize you’re watching history being preserved — as it’s being preserved — in real time.
There’s a reason why Martha: A Picture Story earned seven award nominations and won four: it’s very power stuff from a newly discovered filmmaker to watch. After watching Martha: A Picture Story, as well as her previous works (linked above), I look forward, not only to Selina Miles’s next docs-chronicle, but to see what fictional-narrative film she might have up her paint-splattered sleeves.
Martha: A Picture Story, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019 and has screened at festivals around the world to critical acclaim, will be available across all VOD platforms in North America on March 16th — along with a special Blu-ray release to follow in May. The film is bought to you by Utopia Media, a film distribution company co-founded by filmmaker/musician Robert Schwartzman (of the band Rooney). We reviewed his own feature film directing effort, The Argument, last September. We also reviewed Utopia’s release of Liam Firmager’s stellar portrait of Detroit singer-songwriter Suzi Quatro in Suzi Q. You can learn more about the launch of Utopia with this February 19, 2019, article at Deadline.com.