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Amir Bar-Lev learns to just keep smiling

Posted at 2:15 PM on September 18, 2007 by Euan Kerr

Director Amir Bar-Lev was a little agitated when he arrived at the MPR studios the other day. His new film "My Kid Could Paint That" examines the controversy swirling around Marla Olmstead who at age four became a global phenomenon because of her amazing paintings.

After catching the eye of a local gallery owner, the huge colorful abstracts quickly went from being fridge decoration to selling for tens of thousands of dollars.

Newspapers, magazines, and TV shows around the world featured the family.

Bar-Lev got permission from Marla's parents Mark and Laura to begin following the family. He wanted to make a film about the nature of art, and ask the question as to what made Marla's pictures so valuable to people.

The story took a twist however when a "60 Minutes" report basically accused the Olmsteads of fraud, claiming that someone else, possibly Mark, was creating the works.

Bar-Lev suddenly found himself is a very different and difficult position. He had begun, despite the best of journalistic intentions, to become friendly with his subjects. He could feel their pain. They wanted him to make a film exonerating them. He wanted to make a film about art, prodigies, and the way things can have value.

The film addresses those questions, and wisely leaves the final decision as to the accusations about fraud to viewers. Bar-Lev says he isn't hiding anything.

"It's hard to believe that Marla did those paintings," he says. "But it's equally hard to believe that her parents had some hand in doing them."

Fast forward to the day Bar-Lev came into the studio. He arrived after taking a detour to a TV studio where he was questioned by someone from "Inside Edition." Basically they wanted him to dish on whether he thought the Olmsteads were defrauding the art world. Bar-Lev says he kept saying that he wasn't prepared to have a conversation with the Olmsteads through the satellite. He has asked the same question again and again in different form.

"They kept saying 'The Olsmsteads say this - so what do you have to say?'" he says. "It's just amazing to me that we are in such a rush to get these little bite-sized bits of information from the television basically where we know instantly who's the villain and who's the genius and who's the hero, who's the bad guy. You couldn't say anything in the middle ground. You had to tell 'Inside Edition's' audience 'I can't stand these people' when I don't feel that way."

All the time though he says he tried to keep his cool. He came though irritated but unscathed.

And perhaps a deeper appreciation for living before the unblinking eye of a camera.

We'll air the interview closer to when the film screens locally in October.

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