Finding Vivian Maier (2013)

finding vivian maier poster 2013 movie
9.0 Overall Score

A chance buy leads to the discovery a great photographer of life

Some areas need more exploration, a better timeline of events

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Finding Vivian Maier

Studio:  Ravine Pictures

Genre(s):  Documentary

Release Date(s):  September 9, 2013 (Toronto International Film Festival)/March 28, 2014 (US)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated


A mystery wrapped in an enigma?

The discovery of negatives at an auction leads to an adventure for John Maloof.  The negatives yielded thousands and thousands of photographs chronicling life both in America and overseas, and Maloof is out to find more about the mysterious photographer.  Tracking Vivian, Maloof discovers an unknown artist both gifted and sick…and could raise more questions about a life unseen.

Directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, Finding Vivian Maier is a documentary film composed of interviews and video, audio, and pictures shot by Maier.  First released at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, the movie was praised by critics and won a number of awards and nominations as it made the festival circuit.  Finding Vivian Maier was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.


I’ve got some work ahead of me…

I’m a fan of photography and documentaries and it is always nice to see a combination of both…especially when the story is quite remarkable.  The movie is essentially one of those stories of chance that shows you how a decision can change the way a person is viewed.

If John Maloof hadn’t bought the box of negatives of Vivian (they were potentially for a project), these great photographs may have been lost in time.  The pictures of the people and the places that Vivian captured have a raw grittiness to them.  I find the movie’s dipping into the reception of Vivian’s work by the art world also interesting in that the work is respected, but there is this double standard involving photography and developing pictures.  Unfortunately, this part of the movie isn’t explored enough and could have been a film in itself.


A small sample of Vivian’s work.

The second factor of the film is the life of Vivian.  The guy has virtually nothing to go on at the beginning of the film and through research is able to find information about Vivian through the families where she worked as a nanny.  The interviews bring more questions when a woman born in New York City is believed to be French and won’t talk about her past.  The documentary kind of pastes together a person with mental illness, but a stronger timeline of events and when people “knew” Vivian would have been nice.


A trip to France

The real winner in the picture is getting to see this work that now tours galleries all over the world.  When I take pictures (especially in film days), I always hoped for one or two good pictures a roll, but never committed to the art like Vivian who took pictures and then essentially hid them.  A discover that she had at some point considered the idea of publishing her world is a bit tragic in that her work now has gained the attention that could have helped her life.

Fans of photography and mysteries can enjoy this documentary which feels a lot like a sadder version of Searching for Sugar Man.  The mysterious shrouded character of Vivian Maier is worth investigating, but it could be that a book (with photographs) would do a better job laying out the timeline of the search and Vivian’s life.  The documentary is still a solid piece of work, but there is room for improvement.  See Finding Vivian Maier for the pictures and to recognize how chance and luck can lead to great discovery of a tragic, flawed life.

Related Links:

The 87th Academy Award Nominations

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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