It was standing room only at the Thursday afternoon Bentonville Film Festival screening of HBO’s “Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr.,” Robert De Niro’s documentary homage to his late father, a gifted painter whose abstract expressionist style was marginalized by the rise of American pop art in the 1960’s.
Perri Peltz, journalist and co-director of the film (along with Geeta Gandbhir), moderated the post-screening Q & A with De Niro, which was held at Bentonville’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, one of the inaugural Arkansas fest’s most popular event venues. Also on the panel was art advisor Megan Fox Kelly, who, for the past seven years, has been a fiery champion of De Niro, Sr.’s work.
“It’s kind of something I owed him,” said De Niro of the documentary, which functions as a cinematic love letter to his father, who died of prostate cancer on his 71st birthday without achieving the fame and fanfare for which he so desperately longed.
De Niro’s hope is that the film will introduce his father’s art to a brand new audience so that it finally receives the recognition it deserves.
“To me, the art is there, it’s like an archeological dig that you’ll find somewhere,” said De Niro. “It’s not going anywhere. It’s preserved—it’s the legacy. And whatever generation that will or could be, perhaps people will then rediscover (my father’s work) and who knows? That’s very, very likely. In 100 years it could be discovered. My whole thing is just very simply is that it finds a home, that the art finds a home and that it’s respected and kept, and revered. It’s good art, I’ll say great art, I know it’s my father but it’s great because of what he put into it—the time the effort, his heart and soul, that you can’t take away from him. It’s unique and special and it’s real and it’s there. Whether it becomes something like Van Gogh or artists who have gotten great fame, if you will, who knows? But it’s my job to keep it there, keep it safe, oversee it and it’s my kids’ job to do the same thing, to protect that legacy.”
The film, noted Peltz, was not originally intended for public consumption, but as a keepsake for De Niro’s family.
“What happened as we were working on it was that it became clear that this was Robert De Niro, Sr.’s story and that it’s really emblematic of a much larger group of artists and many artists, really, as a whole,” Peltz explained. “And we talked to Bob about the fact that maybe this was a much bigger story and something that really should be shared with people, not only as an opportunity to share beautiful art with the public, but (to share) this idea that fame an notoriety don’t necessarily come with great talent, and sometimes people work away and ever get the attention they might deserve. To tell this story posthumously and hopefully give Robert De Niro, Sr. the opportunity for people to see his work is a privilege.”
“Working on this film was, ultimately, a great way of communicating this story of the artist in a completely different way than we in the art world usually communicate,” added Kelly. “It was also an opportunity to put the work into a context and let the rest of the world make up their mind about the art. I think the legacy has yet to be determined and I think the art world is starting to come around to reevaluate, not just Robert De Niro Sr., but a lot of artists from his generation.”
While De Niro spoke openly of his affection for all of his late father’s work, his most recent acquisition was of a painting titled, “Lady in Red,” which hangs in his New York City apartment.
“It’s really great,” said the Oscar winning actor, who noted that if he could say one thing to father it would be this: “Dad, this is what I’m doing for you.”