EXCLUSIVE: The Documentary Spotlight section of SXSW features one of the most inventive films in the festival, This World Is Not My Own, directed by Petter Ringbom and Marquise Stillwell. The SXSW program describes it as spanning five genres – animated, biography, documentary, history, and hybrid – which gives you some idea of the ambitious nature of the project.
The film, which premieres on Saturday, immerses viewers in the life and work of late self-taught artist Nellie Mae Rowe, whose mediums ranged from paper and collages to hand-sewn dolls, sculptural displays and more. Actress Uzo Aduba provides the voice of Rowe, who was born at the turn of the 20th century and died in 1982. We have your first look at the film in the clip above, which features an animated 3D character “based on Nellie’s likeness.”
“For most of her life, Nellie Mae Rowe made art in obscurity in her home outside of Atlanta,” a description of the film notes. “Six years before her death, a wealthy gallerist introduced her work to the art world. Over four acts, This World is Not My Own traces the lifespan of an artist who struggles to dedicate her life to art while exploring the personal and political events that shaped her singular body of work. The film mixes traditional documentary techniques with animations and scripted scenes based on Nellie Mae Rowe quotes.”
Rowe’s work was the subject of a recent exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. “Rowe’s materials were modest — felt-tip and ballpoint pens, pencil sand colored pencils and above all, crayons with which she achieved an unusual magnificence: solid planes of brilliant color that give so many of her drawings the power of paintings,” Roberta Smith wrote in a New York Times appreciation timed to the exhibition.
Smith observed that Rowe’s works “rivet the eye with bright, dense colors, ingenious patterns and thickets of line and buoyant, sometimes bulbous figures and animals. Arranged in the topsy-turvy manner of a patchwork quilt, these elements fill the page and push forward with an energy that is both modern and primal.”
Ringbom and Stillwell direct This World Is Not My Own, with Ringbom also serving as cinematographer. Stillwell serves as executive producer along with Dream Hampton, who earned acclaim with her 2019 documentary series Surviving R. Kelly. Ruchi Mital produces and also co-writes the screenplay with Ringbom. Princess A. Hairston is the editor.
The impressive VFX – character animation is by Andreas Wiklund; the VFX producer is Sigfrid Söderberg. Matthew Head is the composer.
The exclusive clip above begins with uncovering the grave of Rowe’s late husband, who died in 1948. The plainspoken Nellie Mae – voiced by Aduba – shares that she has no desire to get married again.
“I ain’t in the mood for one [a husband],” she says. “I don’t want ‘em and I am happy without ‘em.” She goes on to describe how the grounds around her house blossomed into a mind-blowing display of artwork.
This World Is Not My Own is an acquisition title, with worldwide rights available.
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