Initially, Corinne Van der Borch’s 59-minute docu about a woman known simply as Bettina seems like just another “Grey Gardens”-like portrait of an eccentric, secretive older diva holed up in nostalgia-crammed lodgings. But after the Dutch helmer penetrates her reclusive neighbor’s digs in Gotham’s infamous Chelsea Hotel, it slowly becomes clear that the floor-to-ceiling clutter that threatens to get her evicted is in fact a treasure trove of unseen artwork. If paired with “The Party in Taylor Mead’s Kitchen,” as it was at Doc NYC, where it won its category, “Girl With Black Balloons” could rise theatrically.
Van der Borch, pitching in with other artistic Chelsea Hotel dwellers to organize Bettina’s space, uncovers a museum’s worth of highly individual, decades-spanning photographs and sculptures. Though Bettina is obviously inspired by her sharp eye for shapes and textures and by changing artistic and technological movements, her interaction remained one-way; a fire that destroyed her oeuvre set her creating feverishly, with little time to seek sales or exhibition. Bettina’s fate mirrors the helmer’s struggle to reconcile self-expression with distribution, while the docu offers Bettina’s work the showcase it never had.