Great art is timeless—or so it is said. But the history of Art is a rapidly growing itinerary of movements and fads that is only accelerating. Art got conceptual, and now it is easily and frequently decoupled from concepts like “beauty”, “spirituality”, or “awe”. In the Space Between Ages, directed by Travis Lee Ratcliff, follows sculptor Dony Mac Manus who rejects contemporary art in favour of classical techniques and aesthetics. With an unconventional narrative structure that digs deeper than most short profile docs, the 9 min film delves into a contemplation of time and freedom, and questions where we fit into these bigger concepts. Compelling, vivid and enlightening, In The Space Between Ages is a fine piece of work, which not only inspires the viewer, but, in this case, the director himself, making it a deeply personal and career-changing project.
By adopting a traditional Renaissance style in his sculptures, Irish artist Dony Mac Manus is on a quest to resurrect “true beauty”, which he believes has been erased from modern art. Featuring long uninterrupted scenes depicting the sculptor at work, In The Space Between Ages uncovers the man behind the art using a distinct cinematic language and pace, which should appeal to all—art lovers or not. When Ratcliffe was approached to make the documentary, he found himself in a bit of a tough spot. “Dony’s views on art challenged me to question my own views. I love contemporary art and don’t crave a return to renaissance ideals the way that Dony does. However, the more I began to listen to him talk about his craft and the direction of the culture, the more I found myself intrigued by this man’s commitment to stand against the currents of our age. What began to fascinate me was the role time and history, both personal and cultural, play in defining our experience of reality”, the director explains.
Rather than setting off to Ireland on a mission to tell just a another story about just another artist, Ratcliffe kept an open mind and allowed the narrative to reveal itself and develop over time, something rarely done in short profile documentaries due to time and creative restraints. The director and his crew spent a week with Mac Manus in his home, interviewing him whilst visiting places from his childhood in an attempt to discover what inspired his art.
“At times, I am frustrated by the level of storytelling in the artist films I see. I wanted to try and go a little deeper with our themes and tell a story about a person who happens to be an artist rather than a story ‘about an artist’”, Ratcliff recalls. Ratcliffe’s ambitious storytelling vision has certainly been realised with the film and has given it a weight and depth most short profile docs lack. By exploring universal themes through the language of art, the director has broadened the film’s appeal to a larger audience, which doesn’t necessarily need to consist of art lovers to enjoy it. In The Space Between Ages is a film to be shared, to provoke thought and conversation, and ultimately to inspire.
It even inspired Ratcliff himself in a way he couldn’t predict, leading him to a major self discovery. “For the last several years we’ve made many documentaries out of economic necessity and pushed away our real desire to tell character driven stories of a more experimental narrative nature. Completing this film has made me realize that I can’t ignore those desires anymore. As I look forward to the next films I hope to make, I think my main impulse is to confront the stories and films that genuinely frighten me. If I’ve learned anything from working with Dony on this film it’s that you have to stand up for the work you believe in, even if you’re unsure that it has a place in the world you live in”.