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Award-Winning Doc ‘Master Of Light’ Depicts Gifted Artist George Anthony Morton: “This Guy Is So Incredibly Talented” – SXSW

Artist George Anthony Morton in 'Master of Light'

Master of Light, winner of the Grand Jury Award for documentary feature at SXSW, tells the story of George Anthony Morton, a young artist of extraordinary ability who has overcome major obstacles to achieve success.

Morton spent 10 years behind bars on drug charges, but used his time in prison to develop his talent in portraiture, drawing inspiration from the Dutch Masters, including Rembrandt. Filmmaker Rosa Ruth Boesten, herself a native of Holland, directed the documentary that explores Morton’s journey and art.

“I learned about George through a mutual friend who met George in New York,” Boesten explained, as she appeared with Morton and producer Roger Ross Williams in Deadline’s SXSW Studio. “[George] just had a New York Times article that came out [about him] and I read about the story and was just blown away by his artwork. And that’s when I reached out, and that’s where it started for me.”

Williams, the Oscar-winning director of Music by Prudence, recalled Boesten giving him a sizzle reel of early footage she had shot. But he didn’t watch it right away.

“Months later, I just sort of in a weak moment looked at the teaser. I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll just check this out,’” Williams said. “And I was like, ‘What? Oh my God, this guy is so incredibly talented. And this filmmaker is so incredibly talented’ and it was so beautiful. And I remember I called my husband and I said, ‘You’ve got to see this… I just discovered an incredible talent and a powerful story. I’ve got to make this film.’”

Part of what makes Morton so remarkable as an artist is his subject matter – African American models who sit for him, including family members, are rendered with dignity. Morton discovered there was a time in art history, centuries ago, when such dignified depictions were not uncommon.

“The further back we went [in history] we would see the Old Masters depicting them much differently than they did after enduring the period of the transatlantic slave trade,” Morton commented. “That was very, very eye-opening for me because I hadn’t been shown anything like that in my textbooks at school and the world museums. It’s just not put out front, and we had to travel far and wide and ask museums to [take] pictures out of storage. It was quite a journey. But I learned that Black people had been elevated in art a long time ago. Our favorite Old Masters would depict them slightly more dignified than the caricatures that we see today.”

Watch the full conversation in the video above.

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