Rivers and Tides is an extraordinary documentary about landscape sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. German director Thomas Riedelsheimer followed Goldsworthy for over a year as he used leaves, stones, twigs, wool, ice, snow, earth, and natural dyes to create astonishing and usually ephemeral works of art which survive, of course, on film. Riedelsheimer carries the audience through the film with patient observance of the art itself, the creation of it, and the laid-bare self-examination of Goldsworthy himself. Goldsworthy describes how his art allows him to feel "as if [he's] touched the heart of the place" where he uses the elements around him as his clay to follow his distinct muse of "obsessive forms," which include conical shapes and snake-like trails flowing through rivers or etched into countrysides.
The relationship between the director and his subject here seems to bring out both the mischievousness and sobriety of the art, which represents Goldsworthy's intense search for knowledge of his life and world; he wants to understand the nature of nature, let the world speak to him through its wind and tide and settling. Goldsworthy comes off at times like a Sisyphean performance artist, as his work repeatedly falls apart mid-creation, but these setbacks are oddly paralleled by the inevitable moments when his work drifts away down a river or disappears into the air. Fred Frith supplies a lovely score, helping the movie evoke the indelible art-in-nature film Koyaanisqatsi. In fleeting moments that observe Goldsworthy at home with his family, or even in his studio and archives, Riedelsheimer slyly captures how Goldsworthy is incomplete when not on the job.
Rivers and Tides won the Golden Gate Award Grand Prize for Best Documentary at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival and has slowly developed (appropriately enough) into a grass-roots hit in independent cinemas, radiating from San Francisco's Roxie. It's a fascinating and beautiful film.