Friday, 15 November 2013

Review: Sign Painters @ Leeds International Film Festival

The decline of traditional crafts and industries is at the heart of Faythe Levine and Sam Macon's documentary about artists who, in the face of technological advances and cheaper production methods, dedicate their working lives to the creation of hand-painted signs, shop-fronts and murals.

The film-makers travelled across America to document a once great industry which was destroyed virtually overnight by the invention of vinyl cutting machinery, rendering the role of the traditional sign painter as practically redundant.

In the 1950s sign painting houses across America employed thousands, today the industry is kept alive by dedicated individuals who spend years as apprentices to perfect their craft and work on a job-by-job basis to earn a meagre living.

You get the impression from the artists that continue to paint signs, that the craft is more than a mere job – it is a calling.

It's difficult not to be infected by the passion to keep the craft from being lost in annuls of time, to be replaced by computer-designed, soulless signage that saps the identity out of our towns and cities.

There's a heartbreaking sadness that runs through the film, a sense of nostalgia for a more innocent time. It's a nostalgia not just for the heyday of sign painting, but a yearning for individualism and the return of home-grown, craft-led industries that have declined in the face of faster and cheaper world.

But the film ends with a sense of hope – the traditional crafts are seeing a resurgence, and the documentary leaves you feeling that we're on the cusp of a sea change.

Four stars


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