VIFF Review: “Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own” highlights a lifetime of art

Documentaries are a difficult thing. The amount of time spent with the subject and the amount of footage shot compared to what’s used in the finished product, are both monumental. One needs a compelling subject with a compelling story to tell, and those are not as easy to come by as many would probably assume.

Luckily, Ursula von Rydingsvard is a compelling subject. A woman at the forefront of the contemporary art scene creating massive sculptures of cedar wood, bronze, and copper, she has been a creative force since the 1970s. She felt a life long determination to be an artist, a drive recalled by everyone in the film from her brother to to her patrons, but with a runtime of only 57 minutes this film a little light on the details of the story of this drive.

It’s a shame too, since her story is rife with detail. From her childhood spent in German "displaced person" camps before immigrating to America, to her career as a teacher, and her time in art school before finally breaking out in the mid 1970s. But as an example of the details skipped: her time as a teacher is only mentioned in passing once. Her influences aren’t delved into in any detail beyond a list on screen of other women contemporary to her.

This isn’t to say the movie is bad though, there are some bright spots. There is some thoughtful examination of her relationship with her daughter, a clearly loving relationship despite a troubled first marriage. More importantly, to this film at least, the art really shines.

Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own
Ursula von Rydingsvard walking beside her work Saint Martin’s Dream in Battery Park, New York, 1980.

Working with 4 inch by 4 inch cedar posts, von Rydingsvard creates sculptures that are absolutely massive. They manage to be brutal and unsettling as well as beautiful. As with most art I can’t quite put it into words but her work resonated with me and I wanted to pause the film multiple times to study it more closely.

So while it’s a little light on the details this portrait is a little slight, but it’s also a fascinating look at a host of modern art pieces.