Artist Anthony Lister bares his soul in Eddie Martin’s feature documentary

'Have You Seen the Listers?'.

When director Eddie Martin showed a cut of his feature doc Have You Seen the Listers? to Anthony Lister, the renowned street artist started laughing at some of the early scenes. 

By the end he wasn’t laughing, but he fully accepted Martin’s deeply personal and at times confronting portrait, which will have its world premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

“He was quite emotional but he was positive with the outcome and we were able to move forward with his blessing,” Martin told IF.

“Essentially it is the story of a young father and his family set in the world of art. I hope it will connect with a broad audience.”

Transmission Films will release the doc produced by Martin and Carver Films’ Sarah Shaw in cinemas next year. The international sales agent Dogwoof Global plans to expose the film at various festivals to pique the interest of buyers.

The film traces Lister’s unhappy childhood as one of three boys raised by their single mother in Brisbane, his first use of the drug acid and his marriage to his high school sweetheart Anika. The couple had three children but the relationship eventually collapsed as Lister battled drugs and the authorities.

Martin approached Lister two years ago, believing there would be a lot of video content which he could incorporate in the documentary. He was amazed when the artist told him he had collected 750,000 files on his hard drive.

Lister was an admirer of the filmmaker’s work since watching Jisoe, his 2005 debut which chronicled a year in the life of troubled Australian graffiti artist Justin Hughes.

The development was funded by Screen Australia and Screen NSW. After Shaw came on board the film was funded by Screen Australia, Melbourne International Film Festival Premiere Fund, Film Victoria and Soundfirm with support from Fulcrum Media Finance.

The film relates how the Brisbane City Council encouraged the then 19-year-old to paint dozens of the city’s traffic signal boxes in 1999. In 2014, the council took Lister – by now earning tens of thousands of dollars per piece and with his works hanging in the National Gallery of Australia – to court on graffiti-related charges.

He has had sold out shows in every major art hub from Milan and London to New York and in Australia. The title refers to one of Lister’s large-scale installation works designed to build a bridge back into his children’s lives. 

Anika agreed to participate, Martin said: “because she wanted to give two sides to the story and to cut through the way Anthony is represented as this kind of mythical artist.”  

Illustrating the challenges of financing and releasing feature docs, Have You Seen the Listers? is just Martin’s fourth film. Commissioned by SBS, Lionel (2008) profiled former world champion boxer Lionel Rose. All This Mayhem (2014), which charted the rise and fall of professional skateboarders Tas and Ben Pappas, won AACTA awards for original music score, editing and best direction in a documentary.

“I have a passion for feature documentaries so I am willing to make sacrifices,” he said. “It is getting a bit easier with the increasing appetite for documentaries on Video-on-Demand but I definitely do it for the love. I don’t want to complain because I have been really fortunate to have the support of Screen Australia and I have a couple of runs on the board.”

For his next project Martin has been asked by the US producers to direct a feature doco on the individuals who featured in Kids, American director Larry Clark’s controversial debut film in 1995.

Some of the participants such as Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson went on to great success while others could not cope with the instant fame and never made another film or died. Clark has given his blessing and agreed to make his video diaries available, and Martin has brought Shaw onto the project.