The art of Jerry Ross Barrish is whimsical and intricate, fascinating and colorful – and plastic.
It’s not a medium that commands a lot of respect in the art world. But Barrish and his work get the star treatment in the 2014 documentary “Plastic Man: The Artful Life of Jerry Ross Barrish,” directed by William Farley, which will be screened Nov. 5 at the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center (see details box).
The film tells the story of Barrish’s life, beginning with his Jewish working-class upbringing in San Francisco. He dropped out of college, due in part to undiagnosed dyslexia, and joined the Army, then returned to San Francisco and opened Barrish Bail Bonds, a business he ran for more than 50 years. He made a name for himself in the city by bailing out civil-rights and free-speech demonstrators the other bail bondsmen wouldn’t, including leaders like Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton.
Barrish was never exposed to things artistic or cultural growing up, but his affinity for creativity led him to film school, where he both made and acted in several movies. At the age of 50, Barrish began making art from things that washed up on the beach in front of his Pacifica, California home, and discovered a talent for sculpture.
Barrish Bail Bonds was the first corporate supporter of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which is how Barrish met Janis Plotkin, the festival’s former co-director and the creative producer of “Plastic Man.”
“I found his story very compelling from the point of view of someone who was able to change his life in midlife and find success,” Plotkin says.
Plotkin and Barrish had formed a friendship through the film festival connection, and Plotkin owns several pieces of Barrish’s work. After she left the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival about 10 years ago, she made a list of things she wanted to achieve, she says, one of which was making a documentary.
“I am interested in doing films about artists,” she says. “I find inspiration from creative people, and I like to be around creative people.”
Barrish says that when he was approached about the idea for the film, “I was very flattered and felt it would help my sculpture career. I had no idea it would become so personal.”
“Plastic Man” includes family snapshots, interviews with Barrish’s mother, who died in 2011, and discussion of Barrish’s work by art experts.
Barrish says that he has really enjoyed all the positive feedback on the film, and that audiences seem to appreciate the film on multiple levels: “Personally, I hope that people get joy from my sculpture. At the same time, I get a lot of feedback from parents of children that have learning disabilities. They feel it is an inspirational film, and want their children to see it, hoping they might feel better about themselves. I have also had a lot of positive response about how you are never too old to be creative.”
For Plotkin, daughter of the late Rabbi Albert Plotkin, the Nov. 5 screening is particularly meaningful; her father died during the filmmaking process, and “Plastic Man,” in addition to being the fulfillment of a longtime dream, was a way to channel her grief into a creative endeavor.
“It’s so fantastic” to be screening her film at the center named after her father, she says. “Can you imagine how excited I am? I’m coming back as the producer of a film that’s playing in my hometown in a space named after my dad. It’s a very beautiful full circle.”
What: ‘Plastic Man: The Artful Life of Jerry Ross Barrish’
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5
Where: Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, 122 E. Culver St., Phoenix
Register: 602-241-7870 or firstname.lastname@example.org