Calvet: An Astonishing True Story
This webpage has been restored and archived as required reading for Sal Lamanaza's course Art In Context. Students can stream the associated film from the department website. Sal is known for controversy. His provocative mixed media artworks have been hosted in major museums around the world. He recently turned a personal struggle with Google into a film highlighting the harm that can come when negative information is revealed via Google's search results. His severely disabled son was found naked wandering his neighborhood after his caretaker suffered a stroke. The news item was at the top of the search for the family's name. The film starts with an explanation of his son's disability and how the sudden death of his caregiver resulted in the horrible outcome that made the news. Then it shows how by appearing in Google's search results this information becomes inappropriately public, violating his family's privacy, and harming his reputation. Everything can be seen as Art In Context.
This was the official website for the 2011 documentary film, Calvet.
Content is from the site's 2011 archived pages, as well as from other outside sources.
NEVER BELIEVE YOU'VE PLAYED YOUR LAST HAND
- Official Selection. Edinburgh International Film Festival 2011.
- Nominated for The Special Jury Award 2011. Sheffield Doc/Fest.
- Festival del Film Locarno Semaine de la Critique 2011
- OFFICIAL SELECTION MONTREAL World Film Festival 2011
- OFFICIAL SELECTION DOC NYC FESTIVAL 2011
- OFFICIAL SELECTION Sao Paolo International Film Festival 2011
- Official Selection Miami International Film Festival 2012
- Official Selection Festival Internacional de Cine en Guadalajara 2012
"Powerful, riveting, inspiring... an emotional roller coaster" David Gritten, Daily Telegraph UK
"Nothing less than gripping and powerful" Mark Adams, Screen Daily
"An astonishing true story, will stay with you forever * * * *" Henry Fitzherbert, Sunday Express UK
"Calvet recounts a life story as dramatic and colourful as his intense paintings" Leslie Felperin, Variety
You may not have heard of the French painter Jean Marc Calvet. But after watching this film, you'll never forget his remarkable story. Before he had any thought of being an artist, Calvet was a bodyguard to the stars in Cannes. Living by impulse, he become disconnected from his family and young son, fell in with a Miami mobster and wound up hiding out in Nicaragua in a drug-fueled haze. At the age of 38, he started to paint as a form of recovery. That was seven years ago. Now, his intricate and colorful paintings sell for five figures. But he remains desperate to reconcile with the son he left behind. In this gripping and inventive film, Calvet retraces the missteps of his life as he builds up the courage to face his past and create a better future for himself. This is a powerful film about struggling for a second chance. - Thom Powers.
About the film
French painter Jean Marc Calvet recounts his incredible life story as a street kid turned Cannes bodyguard who abandoned his family, robbed a Miami mobster, hid out in Central America and at the age of 38 overcame addictions through an extraordinary metamorphosis in which he began to paint. That was seven years ago. Now his intricate paintings sell for five figures, but he remains desperate to reconcile with his son he left behind.
The powerful, tortured paintings of French artist Jean Marc Calvet sell from $20,000 a piece, he has major solo exhibitions in New York, yet until 7 years ago he had never touched a paintbrush. In fact, art was the last thing on his mind when, aged 38, he was on the run in Central America with a large sum of stolen money. There, haunted by his past, Calvet decided that death was his only way out.
This is one man’s extraordinary story of redemption as he embarks on a journey to make peace with his past. A man who lived a dark and violent life, who via a terrifying trip to hell and back was given a second chance.
“All I ever wanted was a family, the person I turned myself into didn’t want one, didn’t need one.” And this persona he created was all bad. Calvet spent his life on a course of self-destruction, more often than not trashing anything and anyone in his path – including his own 6 year old son whom in 1996 in France, he abandoned without a word. He neither saw nor spoke to him again.
“See you next Saturday” were the last words Calvet said to his son before he disappeared. “See you next Saturday” – words that have haunted him every day for over a decade. Clues as to how he could do such a cruel and cowardly thing to the person he loved most in the world lie in his deeply troubled past.
Abused street kid, Foreign Legionnaire, vice cop, professional bodyguard, underground thug – Calvet is a cat with many lives, all harrowing and disturbing. Then in 2002 in Costa Rica, he arrived at the end of the road. Lost and damned, besieged by shame and self-hatred, he bought the last house at the end of a cul-de-sac, shut himself in and refused all contact with the outside world. Fuelled by obscene quantities of crack and alcohol, he believed the end would arrive quickly. It didn’t.
Calvet failed in his mission to die. Instead he descended into a psychological and physical hell. Hallucinating and paranoid, he went to war with himself, destroying the house as he tried to escape the demons that were tormenting him. Through 9 months of self-incarceration, he shrunk from an obese 130 kilos to a skeletal 47. Then one violent night, Calvet’s trajectory changed forever. Amongst all that he hurled against the walls that night, including himself, was a stack of rusty industrial paint pots that he had discovered under the stairs. Following hours of madness he collapsed exhausted and found himself gazing at a wall covered in blood and paint. And he understood the language. He saw anger, hate, violence, death… and he felt an overwhelming sense of release. He had found a weapon to defeat the person he had become. Something inside had awoken. He had found the way out. He began to paint like a man possessed.
5 years on, he is being presented to the international art world as a significant new talent and sells his work for thousands. However, Calvet has still to face his final demons. The time has come to face up to the biggest crime of his life. His son is about to turn 18 years old. He must go and find him...
DIR/PROD Dominic Allan. Nicaragua/Costa Rica/UK/US/France, 2011, color, 86 min. In English, French and Spanish with English subtitles. NOT RATED
I first met Calvet while travelling in Nicaragua in 2004. I walked into the café-restaurant he owned then and stopped dead in my tracks. “Who the hell painted that?” I wondered gawping at a large canvas on the wall. He took me to his ramshackle studio where I witnessed something remarkable – not only in his work, but in him. There was something mesmerizing about him. I wasn’t sure what, and there was evident paranoia. He pointed out the 24 hour armed guard watching over his property from the far side of the street. He set 50 traps across the hall floor every night before bed, bolted the bedroom door which was guarded by his dog, an enormous Rottweiler, and slept with a gun under his pillow. I left it there.
A year later, the name Calvet was still pestering me. So I took a 10 day research trip back to Nicaragua and learned about this man’s past. This time I left with my mouth open. I’d not heard a story like it, it was truly stranger than fiction. It was a tale full of human contradiction, of human strength and frailty, of the destruction of family and the desperate longing for one. Here was a man who had experienced an extraordinary metamorphosis, yet he was still racked by guilt, the need to make amends and forgive himself. I knew that I had found something very unusual. It had lit the fire inside and I was compelled to make the film.
His inspiring story was always my first consideration and the notion of what can happen to us in our darkest hour – the possibility of transformation in a moment of total crisis. Yet I found his art electrifying as well (and I am no art aficionado). I was fascinated that this was not a man who decided to paint; painting was something that happened to him. And what started as an uncontrollable purging, then became a raging desire that has continued at an astonishing pace. It is both his on-going therapy and his newfound addiction. A day out of his studio and withdrawal sets in. It is about revisiting the insanity of his self-incarceration, exorcising the shadows of his past, and slapping down on canvas the dirty truth of life.
Making the film was a remarkable adventure, not all easy, and it was a wonderful mutual exchange between protagonist and filmmaker. To accompany Calvet on his journey to find his abandoned son was a rare privilege. The time for lies, manipulation and hiding was over for him. He needed to do the right thing, and he needed to confess, much as he does in painting. That brought a fresh and often shocking honesty to the film.
It's a gripping tale of human triumph and from a dark place, it delivers a powerful and inspiring message. Never believe you’ve played your last hand. No matter how lost you are, it’s never too late.
Director / Producer – DOMINIC ALLAN
Born in England, Dominic has spent his entire professional career working in production of film, television and advertising, rising in the 1990s to become an award-winning documentary filmmaker. From an impressive range of political, historical, observational and travel documentaries, his recent films include:
THE PIPELINE (BBC Storyville / PBS & CBC co-production)
- A 2000km journey across Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, on the trail of a new oil pipeline being built from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean. The film exposes the social and environmental damage in the pursuit of oil through some of the most dangerous and geographically challenging regions on earth.
- Winner – Cine Golden Eagle, Washington
- International Showcase – Hot Docs International Documentary Festival, Toronto
MANDELA: THE LIVING LEGEND (BBC1 / SABC Production)
- With unprecedented access to the daily life of Nelson Mandela, this two part film explores both past and present to tell the epic story of one the greatest icons of our time.
- Nominee, International Emmy
ISRAEL UNDERCOVER (BBC Correspondent Special / October Films / WGBH Frontline)
- With unique access to the Israeli special forces, the film examines the methods and rational behind the scenes. On missions with four different units, the camera then follows an elite snatch squad deep into the West Bank.
- Winner – TV Story of the Year, Foreign Press Association Media Awards
- Winner – Journalist of the Year, Foreign Press Association Media Awards
- Nominee – The Rory Peck Award for exceptional individual work in a war zone
After graduating from film school in UK with distinction, Dominic worked in post production at The Moving Picture Company in London. He then worked in commercials and music video production for Virgin among others, before moving on to work as a Location Manager, then Assistant Director in commercials, television and numerous feature films including Hellraiser, Wilt, How To Get Ahead In Advertising, Great Balls of Fire, Accidental Tourist and Batman. As a Director, he began with music videos and TV serial drama, though soon gravitated towards documentary, with films such as 7 Days That Shook United, an alternative history of the legendary Manchester United Football Club. He is based in Barcelona and continues to develop and direct new film projects.
Cinematographer – DEWALD AUKEMA
Amongst the numerous awards Dewald has won, two films he photographed have been nominated for Oscars, three have been nominated for an Emmy with two, The Life &Amp; Times of Count Visconti Luchino (2003) and Ascent of Money (2009) taking the top honour. Dewald studied film production at the Pretoria Film School in South Africa in the 80s. Over the last 28 years he has photographed over 70 anti-apartheid films for international broadcasters, more than 300 documentaries worldwide, 9 feature films and numerous drama series for TV. He lives and works out of London.
Film Editor – PAUL CARLIN
Paul has edited documentaries and feature films for over 20 years. The demand for his talent has never been higher with award winning documentaries that include Baby It’S You (Emmy), Ghosts of Rwanda (Peabody Prize), The Death Train (Hugo Award), Staying Lost (BBC Indie Awards) and a theatrical release in 2008 with Turn It Loose. His feature film credits include Reason to Die, Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil, Mike Hodges’ I'll Sleep when I'm Dead, and most recently In Transit and Lilacs. Paul lives and works in London.
Composer – EDITH PROGUE
Bernie had considerable commercial success in France in the 80s and 90s with a hit record and the numerous tracks he wrote for celebrated French singer, Veronique Sanson. Collaborating with Vangelis’ engineer, Philippe Colona, he then produced his album Aelita, and in 1999 he formed Izdatso, releasing two albums on Nutone/EMI America. His focus since has been as a digital composer under the alias Edith Progue, with the exquisite Timeline released in 2007 on Berlin's iconic Mille Plateaux label, winning Best Album at the Qwartz Electronic Music Awards. He lives and works in Paris.
"I paint by necessity… without thought, some form of liberated automatism. I allow my unconscious mind to guide my hand. I cultivate my obsessions by making use of my demons and my ghosts to pull a creative energy from them. An artist is above all an antennae – an emotional receptor opening a passage into different worlds. Each character in my paintings is filled with stories and creatures, giving life to a constant movement of death, love, sex… of life to put it simply. We are all made up of details. Our life is constructed by them and in their absence we would not exist. We would become transparent.
On the surface, we are only words, expressions – inside we are colors."
Jean-Marc ‘s life inspired the British film director Dominic Allan who made the movie “CALVET” recounting his incredible journey in life and his redemption thanks to his paintings.Today, Calvet’s arwork is well recognized and can be found in Museums, Fondations in the USA, in Nicaragua and in numerous international collections.