The absorbing and highly sympathetic documentary Art and Craft takes us into the world of Mark Landis, an eccentric, wispy, social isolate who resides in Laurel, Mississippi and has spent much of his last 30 years painting highly credible fakes of one-time-only masterworks by Picasso, 17th century Italian artists, and even pop culture treasures by Charles Schultz. Landis is so fast and facile at his métier that he’s been passing himself off as a wealthy heir and has donated dozens of his fakes to unsuspecting museums both large and small. Although no money has changed hands, so no actionable crime has been committed, Landis’ acts have angered and outraged more than a few of those museum experts he’s duped such as former registrar at the Cincinnati Art Museum Matthew Leininger, who has pursued him for years to the point of obsession.
Art and Craft is a quirky, low-key documentary that may sometimes suggest a flyover state version of Leonardo DiCaprio’s con artist caper Catch Me If You Can. Interestingly, filmmakers Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker seem so beguiled by Landis that they completely duck the ethical implications of his acts. Their film also edges uncomfortably into exploitation of their subject who demonstrably suffers from psychiatric problems and who is gifted enough to be creating original art yet prefers to imitate the greatness of others. Still, the moviemakers have created a unique portrait of a highly unusual, gifted oddball who is — unlike his paintings — a true original. ***