Through testimonies of contemporary artists in the U.S. and abroad, in his documentaries Robert Adanto offers insight on how individuals cope with dramatic, life-altering situations, creatively.
"An artist, by nature, is driven to delve into the funk of their being, process and experience feelings and emotions in an attempt to create meaningful expression," explained Adanto, who currently heads the film and TV program at the University School of Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida. He is also a classically-trained actor, having earned his M.F.A. at New York University's Graduate Acting Program.
In his directorial debut The Rising Tide (2008), Chinese contemporary artists discuss the dramatic changes that swept through China since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. Pearls on the Ocean Floor (2010) documents Iranian female artists navigating Sharia law in a post-revolutionary Islamic Republic or living abroad in a foreign land. Pearls received the Bronze Palm Award at the 2011 Mexican International Film Festival, and an Independent Spirit Award at the 2012 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.
His latest documentary, City of Memory (2013) offers the stories of several New Orleans-based visual artists whose works explore life post-Hurricane Katrina. A special pre-screening of Mr. Adanto's film will take place at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans at 7 p.m., Sept. 7, in conjunction with the exhibit, Tank Drama: Deliberation from the Wet Grave, curated by Jan Gilbert.
New Orleans, a city with rich, cultural traditions, now has a place in history after enduring one of the most devastating hurricanes to occur in the U.S. (Read more about Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath in New Orleans here.)
"When I began the project in the summer of 2010, with so much of the physical landscape still in ruin, I wanted to speak with contemporary artists who had lived and breathed the city for a number of years," Adanto said. "Some were born and raised in the Crescent City and a few others, like Deborah Luster and Kevin Kline, have been living and working there for a number of years."
The conflict for a few of the featured artists began with the decision of whether or not to evacuate prior to Katrina's landfall. Photographer Jennifer Shaw, then nine months pregnant, evacuated Aug. 28, 2005 with her husband to southern Alabama. The following day, Aug. 29, 2005, when the mammoth storm hit southern Louisiana, their first son was born. Her series, Hurricane Story provides insight on her family's experience. David Spielman, an international photographer and gallery owner, chose to stay. He actually kept shelter with a group of nuns.
In the aftermath, the majority of New Orleans was inundated due to levee breaches caused by the storm surge. The loss of life, property and any semblance of normality altered the fabric of the city that natives, like featured artist Dawn Dedeaux, hold dear. Dedeaux is a pioneering, American new media artist exhibited widely across the country. Her worked has been reviewed in publications including New York Times, USA Today, Art in America and Art Forum, and the subject of a televised feature on CBS Sunday Morning.
Louisiana-native Tameka Norris earned an M.F.A. in painting and printmaking at Yale University in 2012 and was listed on Modern Painters Magazine's international list as one of "100 Artists to Watch" in 2012 and 2013. She was attending the University of California, Los Angeles when Katrina came to town. Her post-Katrina self-portraits, where she looks polished and pristine against a backdrop of debris, reflect her grappling with being away from her home state as it was pummeled.
New Orleans will never be the way it was before the storm, and the same can be said about its art scene. During the last three years I have witnessed the slow, but steady recovery of a great American city. I feel quite honored to play a role in documenting its rebirth.
If you go:
What: Pre-screening of City of Memory, a film by Robert Adanto
When: 7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 7
Where: Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Official Film Website: Here
View the trailer: