“That’s why I began doing makeup in the first place: I was hoping that through helping people see the beauty in themselves, I could try and find it in me.” – Kevyn Aucoin (1962-2002)
Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story explores the life of the iconic make-up artist who transformed the profession into a prominent and influential art form. Director and fellow make-up artist Tiffany Bartok paints a beautiful and deeply personal portrait of a man who, as both an artist and LGBTQ advocate, dedicated his life to elevating the inner confidence and presence of others. Through intimate archival footage and interviews with his famous friends and clients, Bartok weaves through the journey of Aucoin’s life up until his tragic end—reminding everyone that he truly was larger than life.
We caught up with producer Jace Bartok at the Hampton International Film Festival, presented by Audi, where the film had its world premiere.
Congratulations on your film. Tell us a little bit about it.
Thank you very much. It’s called Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story. It’s about the beautiful life of make-up visionary Kevyn Aucoin. It follows his life from Louisiana in the 1970s being bullied and finding his way to New York, rising and creating the face of the supermodel, and ending tragically and mysteriously in the early oughts. It’s a very immersive documentary, it takes you through these amazing eras and your heart goes out to Kevyn and you connect with him and you follow him. I mean, it’s a real story about an American hero.
For those who don’t know, who is Kevyn?
Kevyn Aucoin is perhaps the most famous make-up artist in the world. He sort of became the first rock star make-up artist. Someone in our film, Sandy Linter, says before Kevyn there were five make-up artists in New York. I mean, that was it. And when Kevyn showed up, you know, he just created this movement where everyone wanted to go become a make-up artist. So, now you see thousands of people in Mac, and Sephora with their make-up belts. Before Kevyn that wasn’t really the case.
You got some iconic names to contribute to the documentary, can you speak about that?
Yeah. We had the good fortune of being able to interview Cher, and Tori Amos, and Isabella Rossellini, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Christy Turlington and these are people that Kevyn connected with professionally, but also on a very personal level. He was so unique in that he became extremely close friends with all of his clients. He sort of crossed the line, and blurred the line and that was part of his gift, and also part of his tragedy.
I think the film also speaks to his LGBTQ activism, sort of being ahead of the time. Just his desire to make beauty a part of your soul. He would augment scars and disfigurements … just being with him you would feel more beautiful about yourself. So he was a really amazing individual. Best selling author, spread his ideas and theories throughout the world about beauty coming from the soul.
What most surprised you about the process of making this film?
What surprised me is that when you leave a strong imprint on peoples’ lives, that just doesn’t go away. These incredibly famous and powerful people showed up to a little hotel room with no fanfare, no requests to talk about Kevyn. So, he left an amazing imprint. It sounds cliché but the love you put in the world it doesn’t go away. He was definitely somebody that did that.
Speak about collaborating with your wife Tiffany Bartok, who directed the film.
We worked together, but I produced. She’s our director. She is a make-up artist, and a filmmaker. So for her it was a passion driven project too. She worked on a set with a young make-up artist who didn’t know anything about Kevyn Aucoin and she was like, “I want to tell the world about Kevyn.” When the process began, I was like, how are we gonna get to these famous people? How are we gonna do this independently? But, we just did over four years.
What do you hope people take away?
I really hope people take away that beauty is not about being the most perfect, the most beautiful, the thinnest. But it really comes from inside. I think Kevyn, early on, had a lot of struggles in his life. So his whole mission was to connect people and make them feel that the beauty comes from inside. Especially in the times we’re living in now to really connect with people on the inside. It doesn’t matter where they’re from, what they look like. But that there’s this love and unity that can happen.
In terms of your background as a producer, do you have a background in documentary? What’s your personal background?
I’m a actor-writer-director. We had made two features before this. The Cake Eaters that was at Tribeca, and a film called Fall to Rise that was at Dance on Camera at Lincoln Center. We work together, but we sort of make things that inspire us. That’s my background. But what I love to connect with for my acting background is just, in the course of our documentary, is you find these real people that are so fascinating. Then they sort of become characters in the film. So we did the documentary like a narrative film with an act structure. Sort of zeroing in, ’cause we had 60 interviews with some incredibly famous people. Some of them didn’t make the film. Like Karen Elson, a very famous model, Jewel, Andie MacDowell, you’re like how can this be? But it’s interesting to see how a documentary, if it’s gonna be successful, has to operate like a narrative film.
You can go to @KevynAucoinFilm and follow the film. Next you can catch the film at DocNYC in November, then Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.
Audi is the premiere sponsor for HIFF 2017.