Man on Wire
An Academy Award-winning documentary about Phillipe Petit's daring and defiant tightrope walk between the twin towers, which became known as the “artistic crime of the century.”
Presented in conjunction with Dancing on the Ceiling: Art & Zero Gravity.
Unfiction is a series of documentary films that turn truth into something other than fact, using poetry and imagination, rather than transparency and objectivity. These filmmakers question the very notion of authenticity, and disobey the typical documentary filmmaking practices; instead they stage their own realities on location, employing techniques such as reenactment, personal voice-overs and special effects.
Petit was born in Nemours, France in 1949; his father, Edmond Petit, was an author and a former Army pilot. Philippe became interested in magic at a very early age. A strong rebellious streak got him expelled from five different schools, and by the age of 15 he had run away from home. By the late 1960s, he had trained himself as a wire-walker. "Within one year," he told a reporter, "I taught myself to do all the things you could do on a wire. I learned the backward somersault, the front somersault, the unicycle, the bicycle, the chair on the wire, jumping through hoops. But I thought, 'What is the big deal here? It looks almost ugly.' So I started to discard those tricks and to reinvent my art." Spurning circuses and their formulaic performances, he began performing as a street busker in Paris. In the early 1970s, he frequently juggled and worked on a slack rope in New York City's Washington Square Park.
Beginning in the 1970s, Petit began eyeing world-famous structures as stages for high-wire walks, which he executed as a combination of circus act and public performance. He performed his first such walk between the towers of the Notre Dame de Paris. In 1973, he walked a wire rigged between the two north pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, in Sydney, Australia.
— A. O. Scott, The New York Times