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Three Questions for Documentary Director Leslie Buchbinder

What to expect from Buchbinder’s new film, Hairy Who & The Chicago Imagists, which premieres in Chicago tonight at 6 p.m. at the MCA.

Director Leslie Buchbinder on the set of her new documentary, Hairy Who & the Chicago Imagists.   Photo: Courtesy of Leslie Buchbinder

Chicagoan Leslie Buchbinder has been a dancer, a singer, and a press agent. Now, she’s making films—at 56, she is releasing her directorial debut, Hairy Who & the Chicago Imagists.

The documentary covers this important group of Chicago artists from the 1960s and 1970s, and it makes its Chicago premiere at the Museum of Contemporary Art on May 20. Buchbinder joined Chicago for an interview on what to expect in the film.

How did you become exposed to the art of the Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists?

When I was around 12 or 13 years old, my parents, who are art collectors, became friends with some of these artists, such as Ed Paschke and Roger Brown. Everyone was hanging out at my parents’ apartment. It was an interesting time to be an adolescent with these very real, very articulate, and very challenging individuals. They were speaking about things that were way beyond my age. One year, I convinced Brown and Paschke to make Christmas tree decorations with me. What they created turned out to be obscene! In my adult life I wanted and needed to pay homage to these incredible artists who had formed a huge impression on me.

Why don’t more people know about these artists?

They were really well known in Chicago, but in the 1960s and 1970s, New York was still very much in the mode of calling the shots. What the art market deems important at any given moment, combined with the needs of the art elite, things don’t necessarily get recognition when they deserve it. I felt and thought that the time was not only ripe to make this film, it was essential. I called Lynne Warren [curator at the MCA] in 2008, and asked her opinion of the idea. She said, “Do it now.”

This is your directorial debut. How did you learn to make a film?

It felt like collaging peoples’ entire lives. I felt a huge responsibility. While it was my and my team’s film, there was never a moment I wasn’t thinking: Am I staying true to who they are? Or, for the people who have died, to truly feeling the weight of their spirits.

Hairy Who & The Chicago Imagists premieres Tuesday, May 20 at 6 p.m. Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E Chicago. mcachicago.org.

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