In an attempt to keep his young daughter occupied while he worked, amateur figurative painter Mark Olmstead set two-year-old Marla up with her own set of paints and brushes. Two years later, a friend of the Olmsteads offered to hang Marla’s paintings in his coffee shop, setting off a whirlwind of events that lead Marla to become the youngest internationally renowned painter ever. By the age of four, Marla had sold over $300,000 worth of paintings and participated in three gallery exhibitions.
When filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev first set out to make “My Kid Could Paint That,” Marla was already getting international media attention and her work was embroiled in controversy; while some touted the young artist as a genius comparable to Pollock and Kandinsky, others believed that her success proved that all modern art was meaningless. However, halfway through Bar-Lev’s production of the film, 60 Minutes ran an exposé suggesting that Marla could not possibly have done all of the paintings, accusing Mark Olmstead of painting or at least “touching up” her work. As both the media’s interpretation of the story and the affect it had on the Olmsteads changed drastically, Bar-Lev was forced to take a different approach with “My Kid Could Paint That,” as well.
It is Bar-Lev’s approach to this story and his own involvement in it that make this documentary really fascinating to watch. In the midst of a multi-faceted media attack on their integrity, the Olmsteads turn to Bar-Lev to exonerate them by documenting Marla painting. Meanwhile, the enigmatic Marla is like a cute four-year-old version of Michigan J. Frog; an average bouncy little girl whenever the camera is on, she refuses to paint seriously in front of anyone other than her parents.
In “My Kid Could Paint That,” Bar-Lev poses all kinds of fascinating questions not only about the nature of Marla’s art, but about the nature of his own documentary as an art form as well. Taking an extremely candid approach, Bar-Lev puts all of his cards on the table, allowing us to make our own decisions about the controversy by providing us with all of the information – including his own bias towards the piece. Aside from being a captivating and highly interesting film, Bar-Lev’s “My Kid Could Paint That” is also something extremely rare – a piece of honest journalism.