The Berlin Film Festival offered movie and photography buffs a rich documentary on Paul Strand, the American photographer and filmmaker. On the surface, ``Strand: Under the Dark Cloth,'' made by Canadian director John Walker, is a well-crafted and factually oriented portrait film.
Just below the surface, however, it's a study of two image-makers - a master (Strand) and a disciple (Walker), and the influence that clearly passed from one to the other.
This becomes most evident when Walker takes his movie camera to places where Strand (1890-1976) took his still camera: Walker's landscapes and cityscapes have movement and color, but they also reflect Strand's painterly approach, sensitivity to form and shape for their own sakes, and a contemplative attitude.
Strand himself had a remarkable career. Early on, he moved away from the prevailing romanticism (soft focus, blurry images) of early 20th-century photography. He replaced this with a more hard-edged and ``modern'' approach, which suited the strong political sensibility that later pervaded his work.
Walker illustrates each phase of Strand's development with examples, each photograph held on the screen long enough for us to examine it and savor its details.
By paying full attention to the political as well as the aesthetic levels of Strand's work, this biography reflects his moral aspirations as well as his artistic achievements.
It concludes with one of Strand's last photos, ``A Bird on the Edge of Space,'' which has a combination of lyrical realism and uncanny surrealism that make it an eery yet inspiring final moment for Strand's career, Strand's life, and Walker's fine movie.