F11 and Be There

Movie Information

A warm and artistic look at a photographer whose pictures continue to define generations.
Genre: Documentary
Director: Jethro Waters
Starring: Burk Uzzle
Rated: NR

Renowned photographer Burk Uzzle is as equally adept with words as he is with a camera. In the new documentary F11 and Be There, the North Carolina native spins philosophical yarns about the power of photography, the importance of art and his commitment to equality while walking us through some of his most famous pictures and projects. Where many documentaries might have taken a bland “point A to point B” approach, F11 and Be There instead weaves nonlinearly through the life and work of the highly regarded — but lesser-known — artist using his own words, clever animation and a stunning soundscape.

In place of standard documentary props like childhood photos and talking heads extolling a virtuous, saintly life, we encounter musically accented vignettes showing Uzzle interacting with his subjects while delivering voice-over analysis of his personal views on race, tolerance and culture. The closest we get to a backstory is an intense retelling of a rookie Life magazine assignment photographing a 1960s Klan rally in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Neither Uzzle nor director Jethro Waters (a former Asheville resident) seems especially interested in specifics about craft or technique either, each opting for a more conceptual and abstract approach to the discussion of art and photography.

Uzzle is a pleasure to listen to as we watch him do what he does best. Now in his 80s, the consummate professional is keenly aware of how his photographs — especially those from the 1960s and ’70s — helped shape perceptions of unrest in U.S. cities and the devastating effects of our foreign policy. He reflects on his art with profound sadness due to the horrors and injustices he witnessed but maintains an appreciation for the beauty found within the humanity of his subjects. From Woodstock to Cambodian refugee camps to roadside oddities, Uzzle captures hidden art wherever he goes, reflecting, “The veneer of civilization is razor thin.”

Whether you’ve heard Burk Uzzle’s name before or not, it’s likely you’ve seen his photographs — and won’t soon forget them. F11 and Be There isn’t just about the artist and his pictures, though. It’s about how art can be used to empower and to heal, and how one man has made it his life’s work to help in the best way he knows how. True to his philosophical outlook, Uzzle insists that it’s the artist’s job to create and reflect the momentum necessary for a truly just and kind world. “The artist must make the world better,” he says, and then makes us believe it’s possible.

Available to rent starting Sept. 4 via fineartstheatre.com

About James Rosario
James is a writer, record collector, wrestling nerd, and tabletop gamer living with his family in Asheville, North Carolina. He is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and contributes to The Daily Orca, Razorcake Magazine, and Mountain Xpress.

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