Almost There

From Almost There

Documentary, 93 minutes, not rated, Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, 10:50 a.m. Friday, Oct. 16, Violet Crown, 3 chiles

For many years Peter Anton lived in a crumbling home in East Chicago with no heat and electricity. There, he quietly amassed a large collection of his paintings and drawings, portraits the self-taught artist, now in his eighties, made of passers-by while out on the streets. Filmmakers Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden spent eight years documenting the life of the irritable, funny, and charismatic Anton, an elderly “outsider” artist who retreated to the basement of his home when he was younger to avoid an overbearing mother — although there are other reasons, too, which we eventually learn.

The foul-smelling interior is crammed with artwork, books, trash, and other detritus, much of it decayed. But there the film crew comes across Anton’s elaborate, illustrated autobiographical notebooks that he titled “Almost There,” and which they then try to have published. When that venture fails, they embark on a plan to exhibit Anton’s paintings at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago, but the wills of filmmakers and artist are tested. When his property is condemned, Anton, while preparing for his first major exhibit, is forced to leave the home he’s inhabited since the 1940s.

A scandal threatens to derail the Intuit exhibit when the truth surrounding his arrest in 1980 emerges. Anton’s shame surrounding the incident, more than anything else, drives him to retreat from the world. He is a man burdened by the weight of his secrets. Anton is living a wretched existence, but he accepts the help offered him, albeit on his own terms. He wants the world to hear his story and longs for forgiveness. His redemption through his art (even if it isn’t all that good) is an inspiration. Almost There avoids the hagiography that often accompanies artist documentaries and is an honest and satisfying portrait.