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Eos Easter In Art Phil Grabsky At The Fitzwilliam Museum Exhibition On Screen
© Exhibition on Screen. Phil Grabsky at the Fitzwilliam Museum.


Jasmin Aziz
11 February 2021

Interview with Brighton Art Film Director Phil Grabsky

Phil Grabsky is a Brighton-based documentary film-maker. His most recent project, Exhibition on Screen, connects major exhibitions from across the world to create films which offer a cinematic immersion into the world’s best-loved art, accompanied by insights from the world’s leading historians and art critics. With the kind permission of Exhibition on Screen, we are thrilled to be hosting a virtual screening of one of the films in the series, The Impressionists and The Man Who Made Them on Sunday 21 March, 7pm.

Written and directed by Phil Grabsky, the film focuses on a travelling exhibition of works by the Impressionists at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris, London’s National Gallery and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2015. Rather than profiling the artists themselves, the film is centred around the art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, who was pivotal in popularising Impressionism worldwide.

We recently interviewed Phil Grabsky about his film to get a glimpse into the world of filmmaking and Impressionism ahead of his live Q&A with Durand-Ruel’s great-great granddaughter Flavie Ruel at our virtual film screening event on 21 March.
Art Film Director Phil Grabsky
How did the idea for Exhibition on Screen come about?
I’ve been making documentaries for 35 years. Around 20 years ago, Channel 5 contacted me to make an art film to showcase something different. We were surprised when we had audience figures of around 700,000! So from my little office in Brighton we became the biggest independent producer of arts films in the world. Then in 2009, I approached the National Gallery about filming their Leonardo exhibition to be screened in cinemas. Although they didn’t really understand what I meant, they agreed and in 2011 we screened Leonardo Live from The National Gallery in 42 cinemas. So Exhibition on Screen was born! We have since completed 27 feature films.

What was it about the Impressionist exhibitions that encouraged you to focus your film on the legendary art dealer Durand-Ruel?
The key to our films is story-telling. You can’t begin to appreciate The Impressionists without understanding the role Paul Durand Ruel played. It’s easy to look back at history and just imagine that things were meant to be. Impressionism could not have happened without him, and the Impressionists would have been forgotten as artists. Durand-Ruel took a risk in supporting such a revolutionary and controversial art form. He basically gambled on them.
"It’s easy to look back at history and just imagine that things were meant to be. Not only could the Impressionists not have happened without him, but they would have been forgotten as artists."
What was the most exciting discovery when filming The Impressionists and the Man who Made Them?
The key to our film is definitely Flavie Durand-Ruel (the great, great grand-daughter of the art dealer Durand-Ruel). Flavie showed us all his books, where he meticulously numbered every painting and how much it was sold for. They document a wealth of famous paintings being bought and sold for the first time. They are an extraordinary piece of history!

We’re thrilled Flavie Durand-Ruel will be joining our live Q&A.

Is there an artist you particularly admire?
In making this film I became really engaged with Claude Monet and came away wanting to make a film about him. Aside from Monet, I think Cezanne would be my favourite. What denotes great art is the way they communicate - it’s about human emotion. There are many layers and Cezanne really captures that for me. But it does change from day-to-day!

In a world of Covid-19 where movement is restricted, how do you think cinema can work as a medium to make visual art accessible to people at home?
Cinema plays a hugely important role in terms of community. We don’t ‘bump’ into people at the moment. Right now we’re sitting at home and watching TV, and although digital technology still allows us to appreciate film, I believe that people are still missing going to the cinema - there is no better place to watch a film than in the cinema.

What do you love about living in Brighton?
It was a fluke that my wife and I ended up in Brighton. I was working on a project in Madrid for two years with my wife when we decided to come back to England. We decided we couldn’t live in London, but by chance my brother lived in Brighton and so we settled on coming here in 1991 and haven’t considered anywhere else. I love the fresh air when you get off the train in Brighton from London. I love the fact that we have the horizon on one side and the Downs on the other!

What do you hope BNJC will add to the Jewish community in Brighton & Hove?
Places of community are essential. It would be great to have somewhere to pop into that has a cafe or restaurant, but at the same time you might go and see a film, or see some art, and while you’re there you might hear the Amateur Dramatic Society rehearsing. I also hope it will allow the Jewish community to engage with the wider Brighton & Hove community, which I believe will help to educate against anti-Semitism.