"Vincent: A Life in Color" premieres at Cucalorus

by Bob Tennant
Thursday, November 13, 2008

We all have our own stories we invent about the mysterious people we see every day,” said Jennifer Burns, an independent filmmaker from Chicago, whose debut film, “Vincent: A Life in Color,” premieres at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Lumina Theatre at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 14, during the 14th annual Cucalorus Film Festival.

“Vincent” tells the story of Vincent P. Falk, a man known by many for his passionate and very public one-man fashion shows during boating season in Chicago.He is drawnto the city’s many bridges, where he positions himself directly in the center of the Chicago River, twirling and swinging his colorful jackets for the passing tour boats. He has acquired many nicknames: “Suit Guy,” “Fashion Man” and even “Riverace,” a play on the eccentrically infamous Liberace.

Supplied photo courtesy of the Cucalorus Film Festival
“Vincent: A Life in Color,” by Jennifer Burns, premieres at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 14, at Lumina Theatre (UNCW).
“I found myself looking for him and wondering what his next suit would be,” Burns said.

The film’s narrative alternates between revelations of the real Vincent and the city’s perceptions of a man it truly knows little about. “Everyone has an idea about Vincent,” Burns said. “Some ideas were even diametrically opposed to one another — and they were still wrong.”

Burns’ multiple Chicago crowd shots portray a muted and often drab American landscape, a city staggering forward with the business of ordinary life: work, home, repeat. The sidewalks and bridges keep the Chicagoans moving in an orderly manner. But in the middle of the shot is this strange figure, a glowing splatter of color, an obstruction among the grays and blacks. Vincent spins around, opening his coat with a childlike grin and giggle.

“I used to look at him with trepidation, then curiosity, then with anticipation,” Burns said. Throughout the production of the film, she said, she became aware of her own prejudices. “I began to realize that he hadn’t changed at all; it was my closed mind that opened up.”

In “Vincent,” Burns rarely shows the subject in any sort of private setting like work or home. By quarantining the viewer to public spaces, we are kept away from the places occupied by the majority of people for the majority of our time. The narration speaks to a sheltered culture — lives experienced through the carefully scripted realities of others. The images of the expansive city force us out into the world we so often deny. Burns ushers us into the streets, and as Vincent interacts with anyone and everyone he sees, so do we.

“Vincent” tells the story of a man often misunderstood. As the narrative pushes forward, the myths grow, and so too does the subject’s true history. From the hardships of a childhood few have experienced or emerged from unscathed, to the day-to-day struggles of navigating the streets of a major U.S. city with very limited vision, the film reminds us of our human obligation to include emotion and heartbreak in the stories we invent about the people we do not know.

Burns said she does not judge anyone for the prejudices or misconceptions they have of Vincent. “I was the same way. But in the end, I realized he has found what makes him happy, and he just does it.”

“Vincent: A Life in Color” is one of many films to see at the Cucalorus Film Festival, which for years has helped the Cape Fear region maintain its position as a relevant and thriving arm of the film industry. From Nov. 12 through Nov. 15, more than 145 documentaries, feature films and short films will be shown. Tickets to the screenings are $10 for adults and $7 for students with ID. A $75 screening pass admits one into all festival films, workshops and Dance-a-lorus. The $150 full access festival pass includes invitations to all social events and access to the VIP filmmaker’s lounge.

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