Stories of people who discover priceless art in dumpsters, garage sales and other cheap venues have long solidified in the popular imagination. In 1992, it was a retired Southern California truck driver named Teri Horton who visited a thrift store and found what she insisted was a Jackson Pollock canvas. Horton wanted tens of millions of dollars for the painting. In 2003, it was a Manhattan stroller named Elizabeth Gibson who, on the sidewalk, came across a painting by the Mexican abstract artist Rufino Tamayo. The work sold at Sotheby's for more than $1 million. Now comes David Driver's new documentary, Way of Life, which narrates the story of Michael Daube, a working artist who found a David Hockney drawing in an abandoned New Jersey building and insisted he wouldn't personally profit from the discovery. What Daube did do: Start a hospital in a poor region of India, then begin a series of other health initiatives in undeveloped regions outside the United States.
As filmed by Driver, Daube's unexpected journey is surprising, inspiring, mystical and mystifying. Why did Daube give up a promising career as a painter to devote himself to helping strangers? Why did "fate" seem to intervene in Daube's life -- not just in the Hockney find but in the series of other crucial connections, including his meeting with musician David Byrne? Driver's film screens Sunday as part of the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival.
Way of Life took seven years to make, which lets viewers see the long-term benefits of Daube's generosity. Because Driver delves into Daube's childhood, we also see the full transformations that Daube has made in his own life -- but Way of Life isn't a traditional narrative. Driver reconstructs flashbacks and creates scenes that are like dreamscapes of Daube's past and present. Daube's story is so unconventional that it requires some unconventional filmmaking.
"I was intrigued by the color of Daube's story -- the cross-section between art and spirituality and a picture of life, an idea about life rather than the straight journalistic facts about a story," says Driver, who's based in the Marin County city of Fairfax. "I set off to make something that was a little bit more poetic."
Driver first head about Daube in 2003, from another filmmaker he was working with at a San Francisco workshop for students. The filmmaker, Ronald Chase, happen to know Daube, arranged for them to connect – and not long after, Driver was on a plane to Calcutta, India, where he and Daube formalized a plan to make the documentary. The movie took Driver everywhere Daube went, including a remote part of Nepal where Daube's organization, Citta, opened a hospital in 2004. The hospital has since treated 30,000 patients, most of them women and children. Citta's other projects include, in India, a hospital, women's center and girl's school; in Nepal, a clinic, orphanage and women's center; and, in Mexico, a clinic and a school. Daube's story features Mother Teresa, who first advised Daube to start a project in the eastern Indian state called Orissa. And it includes Byrne, who (through a mutual connection) hired Daube to do repair work and other tasks. Daube poured that money back into Citta, then had the good fortune of Byrne performing music to raise money for Citta. Seamlessly, Way of Life details all the almost-hard-to-believe coincidences and timely events that have happened to Daube, and interviews Byrne and others who testify about Daube's spirit and determination.
As Way of Life makes clear, Daube, who's 46, still has the talent to pursue a viable art career. He was talented from an early age, doing portraiture and, in recent years, abstract work. But the non-profit work that Daube does has taken over his life. It ishis art. And that's one of the many surprising things about Way of Life: It shows the art and creativity that's involved in building hospitals, overcoming legal obstacles, and doing good in the world. Daube is a do-gooder extraordinaire who identifies with Buddhism, a Zen approach to life, and a myriad of other philosophies that he amalgamates successfully into his own life.
Subject and filmmaker turned out to be a good match. Driver, 48, has done lots of volunteer work in his life, and has experimented with his own career – in the mid-1990s, he was ensconced in Hollywood, where he did production-assistant work on Ellen DeGeneres' Ellen, TV show, and on such movies as Friday the 13th (the ninth part called Jason Goes to Hell). As he got older, Driver realized that he wanted to be involved with movies that were more personal to him, and more substantial. Sunday's screening is really a preview since Driver is still working on some technical and musical aspects of the Way of Life – and still trying to raise more money for the film. Daube and Citta participated in a fund-raiser for Way of Life in June, at the Tribeca Film Center in Manhattan.
"I'm happy to have had a project that I could get into for so long," says Driver. "He's a good guy and his story deserved to be told."
Way of Life screens Sunday, November 13, 12:20pm at the Roxie Theater as part of the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival. For tickets and more information visit thirdi.org.