I’ve seen “Almost There,” Aaron Wickenden and Dan Rybicky’s splendid, elusive minor miracle of northwest Indiana nonfiction a few times, and I’m still not sure why it’s so powerful. That it’s specific yet elusive, its dense range of fear and hope? There’s much to consider about outsider art, loneliness, mental illness and brightly colored graphomania in its innerworldly portrait of now-eighty-three-year-old Peter Anton, an elderly artist living in squalor in the wet, fetid basement of his parents’ house, moldering atop his art-stuffed living-dying quarters. As I wrote in January when it debuted at Siskel (its theatrical run begins now): “There’s a delicate and beautiful dance in ‘Almost There,’ a seven-years-in-the-making engagement with an elderly Northwest Indiana outsider artist, Peter Anton (whose work was shown at Chicago’s Intuit Gallery in 2010). The movie transforms before our eyes, as it did for the filmmakers. One of the most luminous, evocative choices made was to incorporate images not only of Anton amid his art inside his moldering dump, but of the surrounding landscape, often industrial, at all hours of day and night (captured by photographer David Schalliol). But primarily, it’s a dance between a willful subject and filmmakers who intend not to stray too close but ultimately can’t help themselves. Anton lives not only in poverty, but also in squalor, in a falling-down house left to him by his parents, and the ethical question of how involved the filmmakers ought to be, in light of his circumstances, grows uneasy. ‘I’m not your subject,’ Anton bursts out at one point, ‘I thought you were my friend.'” 85m. (Ray Pride)
“Almost There” opens Friday, December 11 at Siskel. Each showing will be accompanied by guests describing a different aspect of the production, including Friday, December 11, with a post-show Q&A with co-director Aaron Wickenden with Newcity film editor Ray Pride.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.