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Paula Rego, Secrets & Stories
The past few decades have seen the paintings of Paula Rego emerge from obscurity into the limelight. Along with Hockney, Freud, and Bacon, the Anglo-Portuguese artist is now recognized as one of the formative figurative painters of her generation. But it has been a long struggle.
Her paintings are mysterious and challenging, with hints of magic and folklore. There is a strong sexual undercurrent to them and a lot of cruelty. Above all, each of them seems to be telling a story. That these stories are not merely surrealist fables but profoundly autobiographical is one the key revelations that emerge from Nick Willing’s subtle and nuanced portrait of the artist, in a new documentary that has already won a multitude of prizes. And Willing should know: he is her son, after all. Thus he is better placed than almost anyone to get this shy and modest woman to tell her complicated life story. Willing’s film is enlivened by plentiful footage of Rego’s early years from Paula’s father, an Anglophile Portuguese factory owner, and enthusiastic amateur movie maker.
Writer and director Nick Willing is best known for his popular fantasy television shows. Yet he has also made theatrically released movies, thrillers, social realist dramas and more recently feature documentaries. The one common thread is his fascination with innovative story telling. In the last two year, Willing has brought his experience as a screenwriter of fiction to help tell factual stories. In ‘Secrets & Stories’, he spent a year interviewing and filming his mother, the painter Paula Rego, to better understand her and her work and discovered that she had kept major secrets about her life from him, secrets that helped explain much of her life and his. The film won both the Grierson and RTS awards for best Arts program and encouraged him to stay in the medium to make ‘Unstoppable, Sean Scully & the Art of Everything’. Interestingly, Willing’s experience in drama has helped in the factual arena. In particular, drawing testimony from evasive and challenging subjects - a skill developed from directing difficult dramatic actors. And his many years as a screenwriter, honing story, have translated directly to the story telling challenges of documentary editing. His goal is to produce powerful, revelatory and entertaining films which get under the skin of their subjects to not only show what makes them tick, but also expose how their worlds work.