On the positive side, it shows the power of art to involve people at the margins of society. Art can divide people into camps of those who get it and those who don’t but Cave’s project and passion is to involve many in his work - including those who would not view themselves as artists. Specifically, AS IS refers to accepting and meeting people as they are. The first phase of the project involved people with HIV, the homeless, women and children in shelters as well as the mentally ill creating beaded string blankets, each depicting a person’s story. They participated with enthusiasm. A smile came to my face seeing people fully engaged in their art. It’s clear that art became important but also fun for them. In interviews with other project participants, especially young people from schools, choirs and dance troupes later in the documentary, they talked about how much fun they had and how unique the experience was as so many practices were brought together, something that normally would not take place. In the theatre during rehearsals young children clearly felt at home and given permission to play on the stage, particularly a section that became their slide.
On the downside, the shortcomings led me to think this documentary could have been much more successful. First, I could never understand what was the point of the overall production. The beaded blankets as life stories was clearly in line with meeting people as they are. But I could not make a connection between the other aspects of the performance that involved music, dance and spoken work. An added frustration is that the movie ended without showing the actual performance, we only get up to the final rehearsals. I definitely wanted to see the performance and hear what the local audience had to say about it.
Cave is perfectly suited for such a project as his practice is largely performance. His soundsuits are elaborate costumes used in choreographed sequences and feature prominently in this show’s development and performance. He is also committed to community involvement through art and is clearly gifted at engaging large, disparate groups of people with different practices. One of the best subplots was his ongoing work with the spoken word poet, getting him and his accompanying musician to continuously raise their game through firm, repeated but gentle feedback.
The success of the film is in its showing that art can involve and engage people who see themselves as artists and those who don’t, but who can be energized by the right project. The movie’s shortfall was in not fully describing what that ultimate multimedia project was, as well as not showing the actual performance and the audience reaction to it.