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Miracle on 36th Street: Zoe Strauss, the movie


Zoe Strauss’s photo that named the new documentary movie, If You Break The Skin You Must Come In.

A red carpet and an Oscar couldn’t have upped the audience excitement at the ICA Friday night for the screening of “If you Break the Skin, you Must Come in,” David Kessler‘s film of Zoe Strauss and the project the two of them did last summer with a group of teens who were under the care of DHS. The movie was made under the auspices of ICA and Big Picture Alliance .

The film, which is nearly feature length, is amazing. Each kid is a miracle of survival and grit and vulnerability. And Zoe gets right into their lives before she knows what has happened to her. Best scenes? So many. From the kids came great autobiographical footage, like Tameme talking about not getting even a birthday or Christmas card from her mother and Daliyl worrying about his sexuality. The conversations between Zoe and the kids–two riveting episodes with Zoe and Charday and Zoe and Daliyl in particular — reveal young people looking for an adult they can count on. They find it in Zoe, and they start to tell her everything.

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Screen grab from the trailer for the movie.

The project becomes greater than anyone could have imagined. The kids grow up and think and learn stuff that they never would have imagined. They visit museums and learn about looking at art and photography. They get their own cameras for the project. You can see their worlds expanding. You can also see that DHS rescued them from frightening situations. And by the end you can see that they adore Zoe, and that she adores them.

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Zoe Strauss at the Whitney Museum for Zoe Strauss night last year.

This is a complicated movie. It tells so many stories of triumph over odds, including Zoe’s, and each story it tells is more moving than the previous one. It’s a movie without a single story arc, with no climax and denouement, but by gum, it’s riveting from beginning to end. Although we didn’t talk to everyone there, our own reactions seemed pretty typical. We were incredibly moved and energized, and left the movie feeling like we had experienced something special. It’s really a work of art. We would hate to see any one of the scenes in there cut, but that’s what we hear is going to happen.

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Photo by Zoe Strauss.

We are writing this in hopes our view to the attention of the people at the ICA who have some decision-making power here, especially to Claudia Gould‘s attention. We are pleading for some rationality and some reality checking on how affecting this film is, uncut.

If any of you are so moved, it would be great if you could somehow share your point of view with the folks over at the ICA. This is an issue worth going to the mat for.

We’re not being coy here about our own roles in the film and our love for all involved. In the film, Roberta sings Zoe’s praises so beyond all reason that she got a big laugh, and Libby just introduces herself as Libby (really, a walk-on cameo). As you know, we love filmmaker David Kessler who is the magician behind Look! It’s Libby and Roberta. And you all know how we feel about Zoe as an artist and a human being (who doesn’t feel this way?)

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Zoe (ponytail) at her installation at the Whitney Biennial last year.

But we sat in a room filled with people we didn’t know, and they all were buoyed by the film–or so it seemed to us. Can more than 100 people in one room all be wrong? We think not.

Let as many people as you can know what you think, and make sure the word gets to Claudia Gould. Zoe has a call for comments on her blog as well. So by all means navigate over there and let her know your thoughts.