“This World is Not My Own”

“This World is Not My Own” is an unconventional, eccentric, hybrid documentary that’s as inventive as its subject. Co-directors Petter Ringbom and Marquise Stillwell tell the story of little-known outsider folk artist Nellie Mae Rowe, a woman who made drawings, paintings, dolls, and sculptures crafted from chewing gum at her home in Atlanta. The film is divided into four acts, tracing the lifespan of the artist while exploring the personal and political events that shaped her body of work.

The film makes unique use of Rowe’s own words through voice work from Uzo Aduba, pairing it with images of the artist’s work and sometimes, 3D animation. It brings Rowe to life with a look and feel that sets the tone for what’s to come. Ringbom and Stillwell balance this imaginative storytelling with traditional documentary standards and interview members of Rowe’s family, gallery curators, and fans of her art, and also include archival material and photos of her childlike works. In the process, they create a full portrait of an obscure creator whose work deserves to be seen and discussed.

Over the course of the documentary, Ringbom and Stillwell’s storytelling detours into other anecdotes that seem to be unrelated (like exploring a notorious murder case and exposing the realities of the segregated South). But in the end, these deviations come full circle and complement Rowe’s legacy.

“This World is Not My Own” is a nontraditional documentary that shines a spotlight on a subject very few know anything about, and does so in a fresh and unique way.

By: Louisa Moore

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