Smile Boston Project

Smile Boston Project (2007, 20 min.) is an award-winning short documentary about Bren Bataclan’s Smile Boston Project, a street art project. In the summer of 2003, Bren Bataclan began leaving paintings of his colorful characters for people to take all over the Boston area on park benches, in subway stations, schoolyards, and other public locations. To each painting Bataclan attached a note that read, “This painting is yours to keep if you promise to smile at random people more often.”

The project started with the goal of thanking Boston for buying so many of his paintings. After years of participating in Cambridge Artists Open Studios (CAOS) and not selling very of his many computer graphics art works, one year Bataclan started painting his colorful characters and they were immediately an overnight success at CAOS. Eventually the project grew and evolved several additional goals, including bringing art to people who typically don’t go to art museums and galleries, giving paintings to people who may not be able to afford original artwork, and spreading smiles around Boston. Bren has since left paintings all over the globe and the Smile Project has evolved into a phenomenon that has evolved far beyond its humble beginnings. Read more about Bren Bataclan and his work at bataclan.com.

This film covers the project from its inception in the summer of 2003 through the spring of 2007, examining Bataclan’s influences, his goals, and the reactions of the people who have found, purchased, and critiqued his paintings.

Director’s Statement

I have known Bren Bataclan, the subject of this film, for a long time. We first met at the home of a mutual friend of ours in the fall of 1998. I was always taken by his genuine warmth and compassion. When he took up a brush and started painting his characters several years ago, I could see that Bren the person finally made it onto the canvas. I was taken by the energy and sincerity of his work, so I started shooting video of him leaving paintings for people to find in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I original thought I’d shoot a single interview and make a very short portrait of Bren and his work at a single moment in time.

But as the project grew, and Bren continued to evolve as an artist, I realized there was more to do. Three years later, I had enough material to weave together this film. Smile Boston Project only captures one aspect of Bren’s work, as his project has gone global, and he’s about to publish a book. However, by focusing on the genesis of Smile Boston Project, and the beginning of Bren’s career as a known artist, I hope to share with you the amazing person behind the work.

Part of my motivation for doing this film is to explore a counter-intuitive aspect of Bren’s career: the more he gives away his paintings for free, the more successful he is as an artist as he sells in Cafes, Galleries, Open Studio events, and getting commissions. His career follows the pattern of a pay-it-forward scheme. The film acknowledges the controversial nature of his approach, some say it’s just a marketing ploy. Some question whether what he does is art or not. In the end, the viewers of the film can decide for themselves.

I’ve spent most of my film career working as a cinematographer, editor, media technologist, and teaching others the art and craft of media production. I have learned a lot along the way from teachers, directors, and collaborators. Working on my previous documentary Remembering John Marshall with Alice Apley and more recently Smile Boston Project have been part of a turning point as I now produce and direct my own work, a journey that started with Destiny, a short 35mm narrative film completed in 1999. It is very satisfying making small films.

David Tamés, August 2007.

Selected Screenings & Awards

Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, February 22, 2009

From Here to Awesome, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, October 3, 2008

Chicago Filmmakers Art Docs Series, April 19, 2008 (invited screening, screened with The Smutty Professor and That Which Sustains)

Northampton Independent Film Festival, November 10, 2007, Winner, Best Regional Film

New Hampshire Film Festival, October 12, 2007

Newburyport Documentary Festival, September 30, 2007

16th Woods Hole Film Festival, August 4, 2007, Winner, Best Short Documentary

Credits

David Tamés (Producer, Director, Videographer)

Elissa Mintz (Editor, Additional Videography)

Colin Owens (Composer)

Alice Apley (Associate Producer, Additional Videography)

Kim Romano (Associate Producer, Additional Videography)

Dan Esslinger (Additional Videography)

A Kino-Eye.com Production