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Barnes Foundation documentary to debut at Toronto festival

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A cinematic primer on how to seize control of billions of dollars worth of post-Impressionist and early Modern art all for a modest investment of $150 million has its world premiere Saturday at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The much-anticipated documentary “The Art of the Steal: The Untold Story of the Barnes Foundation” looks at the shrewdly engineered takeover of arguably the nation’s greatest early 20th century cultural monument. Dubbed by critics a ‘legal theft,’ the disastrous plan is to dismantle the Barnes and move it from its historic home in suburban Philadelphia to a tourist location close to downtown.

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I haven’t seen the movie yet, but last year I was interviewed by director Don Argott and producer Sheena Joyce of 9.14 Pictures, based in Philadelphia. What impressed me was the thoroughness of their research and easy command of a mountain of complicated facts. That bodes well. The Barnes saga is long and tangled — and still only partly disclosed — but the filmmakers were on top of it.

Philadelphia Inquirer movie columnist Steven Rea was impressed. He went to a recent critics’ screening and Thursday posted some advance views on the newspaper’s website. Calling the documentary “searing,” “important” and “fascinating” — not to mention “guaranteed to upset more than a few people” — Rea predicts it will find theatrical and broadcast distribution at TIFF.

“The Art of the Steal” will be at the New York Film Festival later this month.

--Christopher Knight


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