The camera lingers on a man smoking crack, his tired face hidden behind an untidy beard, the fingers holding the pipe stained in various colors of paint.
Earlier, the interviewer asks him what his choice would be between art and crack: he is unable to respond.
In his documentary, Josh Lane (“Wastings & Pain”, “My Other Me: A Film About Cosplayers”) follows around Ken Foster, a homeless and crack addict street artist based in Vancouver whose undeniable talent attracted a following. Unfortunately, Foster’s addiction and mental illness have prevented him from escaping the hole he’s dug himself in.
With various interviews of people surrounding Ken – his adoptive mother, his estranged daughter, a fan who collects his paintings – Josh Lane manages to get a distant and varied look at the artist’s life that counterweighs the major part of the documentary where Lane follows Foster around and shows the unflinching, raw truth: Foster is stuck in a vicious cycle that no one knows how to pull him out from.
When Lane asks Ken’s fans or family about his addiction, it is clear that they support him and want to see him become clean, but that Ken himself refuses to get better.
Lane’s Ken Foster is therefore not a pleasant ride; it isn’t necessarily hard not to look at either but shows us the life of a broken man with such sincerity that it cannot leave your heart intact.
And with the tacit promise of revealing Ken Foster as he is, Josh Lane chooses to have his documentary be as bare as possible: the camera is hand-held, trying to follow Ken around on the street in the late hours of the night, or just fixed on the man while he spouts nonsensical drug-induced half-sentences, goes on heart-wrenching personal ramblings cut by sobs that come from deep within, or just paints frantically with his fingers, knowing that the more he’ll paint the more he will earn money and the more easily he will get his next fix.
The art battles he decides to participate in throughout the documentary reveal his popularity, his name needing no introduction and igniting the crowd’s approval, yet all he cares about is how to get crack, as shown in a beautiful animated sequence by Daniel Lyle Duncan where, in the style of Foster’s own paintings, we see him striding along the streets in-between two rounds of the Vancouver art battle, asking people here and there if they can get him the drug he’s craving for.
While the documentary looks like it lacks polishing (notably the use of fading transitions that make it look amateurish), it only plunges us more easily into the subject’s frantic mind, refusing to prioritize esthetic over truth.
Viewers who have already heard of Ken Foster will probably get much more from the documentary than ones who don’t, but it is not necessary to have heard of him to appreciate it.
Not only will it make you discover some beautiful art, its look into the life of a poor crack addict man, no matter his talent or popularity, is worth checking the documentary out alone. But be prepared for something that will leave you as torn and tortured as Foster’s art style.