Tim Rollins is a New York conceptual artist with a mission: he wants to turn inner-city teenagers into college-bound budding painters. Since 1984 his studio in the South Bronx has served as a training ground and refuge for talented, largely Latino kids handpicked by him to participate in group painting projects. Their large-scale mixed-media canvases caught the attention of the art world in the late 80s, resulting in publicity blitzes that, for the most part, portrayed Rollins as either a WASP savior or an abusive drill sergeant to the self-billed “kids of survival.” This documentary feature by the Bay-Area husband-and-wife team of Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine takes a more balanced tack. In chronicling life in the cavernous studio over a three-year period as Rollins and five of his kids embark on a project to depict scenes suggested by six literary classics, the film captures the irony-laden complexities of Rollins’s personality, to be sure; but it also focuses on the kids themselves and their feelings and expectations. With their trademark unobtrusive, fly-on-the-wall approach, Geller and Goldfine catch their subjects in such revealing moments as the kids complaining about Rollins behind his back, the funeral of a K.O.S. who was gunned down in a gang shootout, an eye-opening trip to a prominent Manhattan gallery hosting a K.O.S. exhibit, and Rollins beaming with pride at a graduation ceremony. The filmmakers have also included skeptical views about the kids’ art and Rollins’s motives from museum directors, gallery owners, and social critics (one of whom even questions Rollins’s reading list for the kids). But these detractors merely come across as passive naysayers in a fascinating, uplifting story about faith in social activism and the transformative power of a common goal. Geller and Goldfine will talk after each screening. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Wednesday, September 25, 7:30, and Thursday, September 26, 6:00, 443-3737.

–Ted Shen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.