Receiving a gift can be a really special thing. All the hard work or all the good will you put in can be worth it because one day you’ll get something special in return. The latest documentary Gift, directed by Robin McKenna, provides a lot of deep and personal reflections on how we look at gift-giving and how we can actually learn something from giving and receiving gifts.
Based loosely on the 1983 novel The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, Robin McKenna’s personal documentary takes us on four separate journeys that give selflessly and expect nothing in return outside of a little bit of spiritual or emotional contemplation. While some people view and judge art differently and some might consider is it a give-and-take type relationship, Gift is primarily focused on how giving a gift to someone can stand for something greater. The movie also dives into the people who put in blood, sweat, and tears for their art and what that really means on a more grounded level to those who choose to accept such an offering.
McKenna goes to certain parts of the world specifically looking at three types of craftspeople and one distinctive social circumstance that exemplifies how certain art is more than just making a profit off of it or the interaction between someone’s eyesight and work. For instance, in a Kwakwaka’wakw island community, Marcus Alfred, a visual artist, is just about two weeks away from a big event for both the people of his community and for himself. The event is a Potlatch, which is a gift-giving feast practiced by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada and the United States.
One portion of the film also takes place in the country of Italy, and one thing that country is currently facing is a massive housing crisis. Many visual artists are trying to fight and protect hundreds of migrant families squatting in a decaying former sausage factory by establishing Metropolitiz, the world’s only inhabited museum. Families live in harmony with the art all around them, which was created freely by artists who can paint, draw, or sculpt pretty much anything they please. The goal of the museum isn’t solely to beautify a place where marginalized people dwell, but to use the value of the art market against the value of the real estate market in a form of social activism, ensuring these families have a place to stay, while fending off land speculators and major corporations in the process.
What these two stories have in common is that they both represent the emotional backbone of Gift, and this something that McKenna could have easily glossed over or decided to tell in another format. It’s important to see just how important art is to these indigenous people and all of the migrants who still want to be protected by it at all costs. As such, the other two threads of Gift suffer slightly in comparison, but offer some much-needed context as to what McKenna is trying to say about the perceived value of art.
It’s also worth pointing out that while Gift is really emphasizing the selfless acts of creating art, keeping families together in rooted traditional acts and customs, and keeping cultures thriving, other aspects offer a more interesting approach to how the idea of a capitalistic society makes it a real struggle to accept any kind of offering. While McKenna was trying to make a movie about the strong impact of gift-giving, she ended up also providing a pointed look at how people have lost the ability to be graciously surprised by art in their everyday life. While all the artists profiled in Gift are giving freely, honestly, and with all their hearts, the film is designed to prompt a call to appreciation and understanding.
Gift is one of those movies that’s a great conversation starter. It isn’t just a movie that’s made to start aggressive debates on what art is worth on a monetary level or how much a creative type should be paid for their work. It’s a movie that takes a special look at something that could never be fully quantified except to the person creating and gifting the art. While it is a documentary, it may not dive all that deep in the economy and how it runs counter to established capitalist rules and social graces, but it’s certainly a call to thought for viewers about never looking an artful gift-horse in the mouth. All that being said, it’s a wonderful plea for people to step outside of themselves and let art into their hearts and minds at every opportunity.
For more information on Gift and where to find screenings, head to the official website.
In select theaters beginning October 11th, 2019.
Final Score: 5 out of 5.