By Mark Peranson
In June 2016 on Lake Iseo in Italy, the Bulgarian-born artist Christo at last realized The Floating Piers, an orange-coloured, three-kilometre walkway on top of the lake that allowed people the experience of metaphorically becoming Jesus. The rollicking documentary Walking on Water takes us through the process of the execution of The Floating Piers, revealing the many obstacles in the way of Christo and his team (which is led by his combative assistant/nephew Vladimir, who has an unintentional command of the camera and should be cast in every film made in the future, fiction or nonfiction, stat). These obstacles include, but are not limited to, fights over construction materials, volatile weather, Brexit, and, in part due to local corruption, an overwhelming onslaught of visitors (to quote Christo, “It’s madness, total madness!”).
But don’t worry about the weather: Christo is his own force of nature. Taking up the Maysles’ mantle, Bulgarian documentarian Andrey Paounov is the credited director, as he was marshalled by Team Christo to edit the hundreds of hours of footage that was assembled over the course of the project, comprising scenes both public and private, some even shot on celluloid. (Paounov did shoot the film’s coda, which shows Christo on location for his next project, The Mastaba, to be realized in the desert of the United Arab Emirates.) Though priced at $17 million, the cost of The Floating Piers was not an issue: as we see, in an indelible scene featuring a clueless Italian collector, Christo funds all of his projects through the sale of his artwork. The 83-year-old Christo strikes a fascinating figure, a tireless, uncompromising artist who thinks his work is, on the one hand, totally useless, but shows childlike joy when things finally work out—maybe because the long-gestating Piers was first planned for 1970 in Argentina with his late wife and partner Jeanne-Claude, and it was his first significant project realized after her death.