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Timely film The Art of Un-War opens the 2022 New Jersey International Film Festival

By Al Nigrin

originally published: 05/24/2022

Timely film The Art of Un-War opens the 2022 New Jersey International Film Festival

The important and timely documentary The Art of Un-War opens the 2022 New Jersey International Film Festival on Friday, June 3. Here is my Interview with Director Maria Niro:

Nigrin: Your film focuses on the work of the internationally renowned artist Krzysztof Wodiczko. What made you want to make this film about him and his work?

Niro: I made the feature documentary The Art of Un-War because  Krzysztof Wodiczko to me is one of the most unique artists out there but he’s also one of the few artists who has consistently addressed the issue of war through art interventionism for over five decades. I feel his work really challenges us to look deeper into the meaninglessness of war and how the culture of war enables its perpetuation. As soon as I delved into his body of work I immediately saw this thread and the film follows this trajectory.

Also I thought it would be a great opportunity to create a film about an artist whose work relates to war and its aftermath but make a film that becomes an intervention in its own right. The film asks the audience to examine their relationship with war, and specifically the culture of war, something Wodiczko’s work is very much focused on. A few years before I embarked on The Art of Un-War I explored the subject of art and war with Glitch Telemetry, a short experimental film which went viral on Vimeo, and which explores war, technological innovation and mass destruction. Investigating Wodiczko’s work on war was actually a great opportunity to continue this dialogue in a way.

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The film is also an exploration into socially engaged art. Wodiczko invites collaboration with individuals, and communities in the creation of participatory art. The film explores how Wodiczko builds trusting relationships with society’s marginalized such as the homeless, immigrants, survivors of domestic violence, and war veterans. My aim was to raise the consciousness of audiences through Wodiczko’s own compelling story and also through the real stories of the underrepresented individuals who co-create with him on his projects. The film reveals how Wodiczko’s art helps traumatized participants deal with their painful memories and uses the project as a channel for healing.  I am really fascinated and excited when art can achieve this. 

Nigrin: Krzysztof’s projections on statues and buildings are brilliant. He brings these dead objects to life and makes viewers question what they stand for. Was it difficult to shoot these projections given that almost all of them take place at night?

Niro: Documenting the projections at night was one of the most challenging aspects of making the film. There was a learning curve to it all such as having the right camera and lenses.  When Wodiczko creates his public projections there are several nights where tests are performed. That was a great opportunity to practice and learn what the obstacles would be beforehand. And those test nights can actually generate some useful footage too. Sometimes the challenge would be the weather. There were nights where it would rain, snow, or there were winds which generated unusable shaky footage. And sometimes the challenge is the monument itself as was the case with Queen Victoria Projection in Kitchener Ontario Canada. With that projection the statue had a shiny surface on it which was making the projector light bounce off it. Essentially the monument rejected the projection. It became extremely difficult to project onto it and made it difficult to capture it. But with a lot of tweaking the technicians got it to work and considering the limitation it was a miracle I was able to document it. This "Queen Victoria Projection" ended up being the climax of the film where it features Iraqi refugees (a mother and her son) who are projected on the statue while giving powerful testimony of their experience of being trapped in Baghdad as the United States bombed their city. 

Nigrin: You wrote, directed, shot, edited and produced this film. Was it a challenge to perform all these functions?

Niro: This was an extremely difficult project to execute as I had to do much of it on my own due to a lack of funding which is often the case with many independent films. Documentaries in general are very hard to get funding for, there just aren't enough grant opportunities out there in the US. And documentaries about art and especially ones like The Art of Un-War which is also themed in war, are even harder to get funded.  So I had to invest my savings in it initially which also meant to produce it and film it on my own mostly. I don’t recommend this as a filmmaker and would not do it again. It is really draining mentally and challenging. I feel it's a miracle that this film got completed. And it took many years to document and complete.  Later I was able to do a successful crowdfunding campaign which helped me to finish the filming. In the end a grant for the post production came through but while it was enough for color correction and sound mix it was not enough to hire an editor. So that’s how I ended up being the editor for the film. Luckily I had great filmmakers and editors who worked as consulting editores which really guided me through the process.

Nigrin: Was it easy to work with Krzysztof? It seems like you have a comfortable rapport with him. How did you meet?

Niro: I met Krzysztof Wodiczko in 2012 while filming the “Abraham Lincoln War Veteran Projection''. Over the years I’ve been able to form a special bond with him, and he's granted me intimate access but it took a while to get to that point.  Wodiczko is very busy between his projects. And he is also an educator. He is Professor in Residence of Art, Design and the Public Domain at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. He also teaches as visiting professor in the Psychology Department at the Warsaw School of Social Psychology. Wodiczko’s production process is long and complicated, which is one of the reasons the film has taken many years to make. It takes at least one year to complete each project with multiple trips to the locations in which they take place. As I’ve focused my lens on Wodiczko and his issues extensively over the  years, I’ve captured what I believe is one of the most significant phases of Wodiczko’s life. He shared the experiences that have stirred in him a lifetime obsession and investigation into ending the maddening spiral of war.

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Nigrin: You document a great number of Krzysztof’s projections and installations that are situated all over the world as you go to Paris, Hiroshima, Seoul, etc. Was it challenging working in this wide variety of places?

Niro: Making The Art of Un-War was challenging and exciting at the same time. It also gave  me a taste of what it’s like to be Wodiczko traveling all over the world to make his projections. He is a great artist, a master at what he does so I learned an enormous amount of information by following and observing him.  His projects are like movie productions, they have a full crew and I certainly learned a lot about his process and all the different people he has to deal with. The most challenging part was capturing his process. Only the camera of the crew is allowed to record the testimonies of the participants so that the process is not disturbed. It was important to travel to the location and to form relationships with community organizers of his projects. This enabled me to obtain some of the actual testimonial recordings of the participants as well as some rare behind-the-scenes moments captured by some of the crew members. Obtaining this material (with the participants’ permission and releases) enabled me to examine the entire testimonial recordings. I was then able to abstract parts that were not included in the projection and use those selections to build narrative arcs around the participants I feature. This allowed me to build the narrative and go beyond just surveying the artist’s work.

Nigrin: Are there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info about your film you would like to relay to us?

Niro: Although this was an extremely difficult project I have to say it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I have not only learned a lot  about an artist whose work is rich, deep, complex yet profound but also learned a lot about filmmaking itself.  And I got to meet other amazing artists such as Ani Liu, Dread Scott, and Greg Sholette who were very much influenced by Wodiczko’s work. And I also met Raffael Lozano Hemmer and Igor Vamos who will be featured in the DVD Bonus.  I also got to meet great art historians, writers and educators  Rosalyn Deutsche, art historian, author, and art critic who teaches at Barnard College,  and Carol Becker, the Dean of Columbia University School of the Arts. All these people are super knowledgeable about Wodiczko and his work and gave me valuable information to tell the story.

Here is The Art of Un-War Trailer:


 Timely film The Art of Un-War opens the 2022 New Jersey International Film Festival 

The wonderful short documentary film MALCAH about Jewish Folk Artists Malcah Zeldis precedes The Art of Un-War at the 2022 New Jersey International Film Festival on Friday, June 3, 2022 – Online for 24 Hours and In Person at 7PM!

MALCAH – Anthony Maranville (New York, New York) MALCAH is a rare glimpse inside the jubilant world of renowned Jewish Folk Artist Malcah Zeldis. Discover how the longtime Tribeca resident went from being a struggling single parent to one of the most widely exhibited naïve painters of our time in a male dominated field. She’s the only living artist to have a solo exhibition by the Museum of American Folk Art—made all the more impressive considering she didn’t even pick up a brush until she was 38! This whimsical profile celebrates the life and work of a true American original. 2021; 9 min.

The Art of Un-War – Maria Niro (New York, New York)  The Art of Un-War reveals an artist's deep commitment to exposing the travesties of war and its aftermath for over five decades. This feature-length documentary explores war, trauma, displacement, and xenophobia through the work of the internationally renowned artist Krzysztof Wodiczko. We witness Wodiczko inviting war veterans, refugees, and the homeless to be creative participants in his projects. As the process unfolds, he records their testimonies. Each project reveals the participant's unscripted plights to the public as he projects their moving images and voices onto historical statues in New York City and other metropolises across the world. The participants’ stories of loss, displacement, abuse and PTSD combined with Wodiczko’s own story of trauma emerge in tandem as the projects become a vehicle for healing. In English, French, Japanese, subtitled. 2021; 63 min.

To buy tickets to see it click here.

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The 27th annual Festival will be taking place on select Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between June 3 -12. The Festival will be a hybrid one as we will be presenting it online as well as doing select in person screenings at Rutgers University. All the films will be available virtually via Video on Demand for 24 hours on their show date. Each ticket or Festival Pass purchased is good for both the virtual and the in-person screenings. The in- person screenings will be held in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ beginning at either 5PM or 7PM on their show date.  Tickets: $15=Per Program; Festival All Access Pass=$100. For more info go here:



Albert Gabriel Nigrin is an award-winning experimental media artist whose work has been screened on all five continents. He is also a Cinema Studies Lecturer at Rutgers University, and the Executive Director/Curator of the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, Inc.



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