Aggie, which premiered at Sundance on Friday, January 24th, is a documentary about collector and philanthropist Agnes “Aggie” Gund, who sounded a rallying cry that reverberated throughout the art world when she sold a beloved painting from her collection to fund criminal-justice reform.
Roy Lichtenstein’s Masterpiece sold for 165 million dollars, and Aggie’s nonprofit initiative — the Art for Justice Fund — was born, bridging “blue chip” art and serving the common good.
Director Catherine Gund captured honest conversations between Aggie and renowned artists, curatorial peers and her grandchildren to craft an intimate portrait of her mother. The humble and endearingly-reluctant subject opens up about her upbringing and the breadth of her career, which included serving as the president of the Museum of Modern Art.
Gil Seltzer cut the project, which runs 92 minutes.
“I worked with Cat Gund (the director) on another film a few years back and we really got along well,” he says. “There was already another editor lined up to cut Aggie, but I was brought in to cut a preliminary trailer and really clicked with the material. Even though I went to an art school, I mostly stayed within the confines of the film department and wasn’t really exposed to the modern and contemporary art world. Aggie’s knowledge and appreciation for that world rubbed off on me as I was screening the footage and putting together the trailer. Everyone was really pleased with it and when the other editor’s schedule conflicted with this post schedule, I was asked to come aboard and cut the film.”
Aggie was shot primarily with Sony FS7 and Canon C300 cameras. Occasionally, a Canon 5D and a variety of iPhones were also used. The bulk of the interview footage was shot with two cameras - one on Aggie in 4K and a two-shot or reverse on the interviewer in 2K.
“We decided to keep those in their raw codecs and sync on timelines with the production audio tracks,” Seltzer (pictured, right) explains. “(Adobe) Premiere had no trouble handling that without transcoding and it allowed me to punch in on the 4K in realtime if needed, without matching back. We had everything transcribed with timecode and made selects as needed.”
One of the documentary’s challenges was all of its archival media - literally thousands of photos and a few hundred hours of footage spanning more than 30 years.
“As our hard drives filled up with this material, we realized that we needed a highly searchable database to track everything and make sure we could call up any item at a moment’s notice and attribute it properly during the licensing phase. We turned to our archival producer, Hannah Shepherd, who created an amazingly powerful and flexible set of databases to achieve this. Every piece of media was run through this cataloging process before being ingested into Premiere so it arrived with a catalog number. That way anyone with access to the database could quickly - and if I made a request - call it up at a moment’s notice."
Seltzer says he likes to work in small beats while editing, so every scene was built as its own separate sequence and then they were all eventually nested into one main sequence.
“This lowers the footprint of your master sequence and also allows me to quickly restructure the film if needed and use markers to identify the acts of the film,” he explains. “I also like to adjust the transitions from scene to scene and having nested sequences is the easiest way to do this.”
According to Seltzer, the documentary’s ending was the most difficult scene to cut because the story is ongoing and there is no clear, definitive end to the narrative.
“We worked through dozens of different endings and finally decided on one that we all agreed with, which was to leave the viewer with another flight across the spectrum of Aggie’s art. It was the most fitting way to go out. We also worked with our composer, Jason Moran, to really build a crescendo into the final track that would emphasize this.”
Catherine Gund, Rachel Lears and Karen Song all served as cinematographers for the project. For more information on the film, visit www.aubinpictures.com.