In a new documentary, “Remembering the Artist Robert: Robert De Niro, Sr.,” actor Robert De Niro breaks from his usual stance regarding his personal life and speaks candidly about his father, who was a well-known abstract expressionist painter in the years after World War II.
The documentary, which has a run time of only forty minutes, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival on January 17, which the younger Robert De Niro attended.
According to the Sundance Film Guide, “Robert De Niro, Sr., was a figurative painter obscured by the powerful pop art movement. His work has returned to the spotlight because of his son, who happens to be one of the world’s most famous actors.”
“Remembering the Artist” reveals details about De Niro, Sr.’s life largely through his son’s eyes. The actor talks about his memories of watching his father paint, but also reads excerpts from his father’s journal; it even divulges that he chose to divorce De Niro, Jr.’s mother after realizing he was gay.
After a screening at the Yarrow Theater, the actor held a panel to discuss the film. He told the audience, “I did this for him,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. “I wanted my younger kids—who were born after he died—to know what their grandfather did. I even kept his painting studio intact so they could see it.”
According to Jane Rosenthal, De Niro Jr. had been talking about making the documentary for a long time, and she started pushing him to finally make it in 2012, as De Niro Sr.’s remaining colleagues (some of whom are also in the film) wouldn’t be around forever.
Originally, he had intended the documentary to be for his family’s eyes only, but his production partners convinced him to share the stories of his father with a larger audience. As director Perri Peltz explained, “It tells the story not just of Robert De Niro’s Sr.’s work—which is amazing—but the entire art world of the time.”
In the film, De Niro Jr. speaks openly of his father’s inability to get along with local gallery owners, and how he was unwilling to tailor his work to the popular styles of the time. Though he was highly successful at the start of his art career, when the pop art craze began in the 1960s, the artist’s work—as well as the artist himself—went out of fashion, leading to depression over not being recognized.
Like many great artists, however, De Niro Sr. looks to be experiencing a posthumous revival in popularity; his son kept many of his works, and at present they are on exhibit at the Julie Nestor Gallery. Art consultant Megan Fox Kelly, who contributed to the documentary, said that a major show of his work in New York is likely to happen very soon.
The documentary will also premiere on HBO in June.