Megumi Sasaki’s documentary “Herb & Dorothy 50×50” opens Friday, Sept. 27, at theaters in Southern and Northern California.
Developed as the follow-up to Sasaki’s award-winning “Herb & Dorothy” (2008), which moved millions of art lovers worldwide, “Herb & Dorothy 50×50 captures the last chapter of the couple’s extraordinary life and their gift to the nation, raising various questions on art, and what it takes to support art in today’s society.
In 2008, legendary art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel made an announcement that stunned the art world. Known and loved as a retired postal worker (Herb) and librarian (Dorothy) who built a world-class art collection on their humble salaries, the Vogels launched a national gift project with the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, D.C. that would constitute one of the largest gifts in the history of American art: to give a total of 2,500 artworks to museums in all 50 states.
This came 16 years after the Vogels had transferred their entire collection to NGA, the majority as a gift, making headlines in 1992. During those years at the NGA, the collection had grown to nearly 5,000 pieces, too large for any one museum to contain. As a solution, a national gift project titled The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States was conceived.
Though their collection was now worth millions of dollars, the couple did not sell a single piece, instead giving 50 works to one museum in every state. Having worked their whole lives as civil servants, their wish was to give back to the people of the United States.
On July 22, 2012, Dorothy declared their collection closed after Herb’s passing. She now works to create a living tribute to their partnership, the collection they created together, and the overwhelmingly positive legacy they have left on the American art world for generations to come.
Six months after profiling the couple in her first film, Sasaki was shocked to discover how much she had missed about the Vogels.
“I felt as though I had been documenting a famous actor behind the scenes for four years without ever having seen him act on stage,” she wrote in her notes for “50×50.”
When she learned that the couple would be attending the opening an exhibition of their donated pieces at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, she decided to join them, thinking the occasion might help to provide a DVD extra or something of that nature.
“I was shocked at how little I had known up to that point about the Vogels’ collection and their ability to discern and select artwork. The artworks were so small in size and yet carried such beauty and elegance,” Sasaki wrote. “I realized this was the first time I had actually seen their collection, perfectly lit and framed in a museum exhibition.”
She added, “Herb and Dorothy are unsung American heroes. Their legacy and contribution have extended far beyond just America or the world of contemporary art. My only regret is Herb didn’t get to see the film.”
Sasaki began her career as journalist for print media before joining NHK, Japan’s sole public broadcaster (equivalent to the BBC in the U.K.) in 1992. She worked both in front and behind the camera, as anchor, reporter and news director for a popular morning news program called “Ohayo Nippon.”
In 2002, she founded a production company, Fine Line Media, to streamline ongoing commitments to Japanese television while facilitating her new interest in feature documentary projects. “Herb & Dorothy” was the first of these projects, a labor of love for which Sasaki was both director and producer.
“Herb & Dorothy” enjoyed both national and international success, winning numerous U.S. film festival awards in 2008 and 2009, including at Hamptons International Film Festival, Philadelphia Film Festival, and Silverdocs. Internationally, the film had a wide theatrical release and was invited to a number of art fairs, including Art Basel Miami Beach, Art Fair Tokyo, and Art Taipei. In Japan, Sasaki and a group of volunteers self-distributed the film and set the 2010 box office record for a documentary film in that country.
The majority of funds for “Herb & Dorothy 50×50” were raised by crowdsourcing in both the U.S. and Japan, raising a combined $220,000 from nearly 2,000 supporters around the world. The film made headlines as the most successful crowdsourcing film project ever in Japan, and kicked off a countrywide theatrical release last spring.
Sasaki’s crew includes Bernadine Colish, editor; Erik Shirai, director of photography; and David Majzlin, composer.
The film is currently playing at the following theaters:
• Rialto Cinemas, 2966 College Ave., Berkeley, www.rialtocinemas.com. Ends Sept. 26.
• Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., San Francisco, http://roxie.com. Ends Sept. 29.
The film opens Friday at the following theaters:
• Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St., Los Angeles, www.downtownindependent.com. Ends Oct. 17.
• Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, www.laemmle.com/theaters/6. Q&A with filmmaker Saturday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 29, at 1 p.m.
• Laemmle’s Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino, www.laemmle.com/theaters/7. Q&A with filmmaker Sunday, Sept. 29, at 3 and 5:20 p.m.
• Rialto Cinemas, 6868 McKinley St., Sebastpol, www.rialtocinemas.com.
• Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Rd., Palm Springs, www.camelottheatres.com.
• OSIO Cinemas, 350 Alvarado St., Monterey, http://osiocinemas.com.
The film will be shown Oct. 5 (3 p.m.) and Oct. 8 (7 p.m.) only at:
• Digital Gym at Media Arts Center San Diego, 2921 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego, http://digitalgym.org.
Official site: http://herbanddorothy.com/