Local director raises existential questions in ‘Many Beautiful Things’

If you had to choose between immortal fame and your true calling, what would you pick?

This question is masterfully formed in “Many Beautiful Things,” a documentary detailing the life of Lilias Trotter, a painter form 19th-century London. Local director and producer Laura Waters Hinson was the mind behind the film, which will be released on March 8 – or International Women’s Day.

Trotter was the up-and-coming favorite of the Victorian art world in a time when women were considered incapable of producing great works. The young painter was blessed with such talent that England’s top art critic at the time promised her that her art would be “immortal” on one condition: She would have to give up everything to dedicate herself to her work.

“It’s about this woman who says what matters is your heart, what matters is to do what you feel like you have to do. Not to measure your success externally,” Hinson said.

Trotter eventually decided to give up painting and become a Protestant missionary in Algeria. “Many Beautiful Things” melds voice, real-life shots, interviews and watercolor art to form a picture of a woman who gave up a promising future as an artist to follow what she thought was her life’s calling: to be a missionary and spread her faith.

One constant viewers can expect in every Hinson work is to be left with larger-than-life musings after the credits roll.

“It asks a big existential question: What is the definition of a life well-lived?” Hinson said.

Hinson has historically based her documentaries on her experiences in post-genocide Rwanda during a missionary trip there. She founded her own motion picture company, Image Bearer Pictures, fresh out of graduate school at American University.

“Downton Abbey” star Michelle Dockery and “Lord of the Rings” actor John Rhys-David provided the voices in the documentary.

The A-list casting in “Many Beautiful Things” works well, and Trotter truly comes to life through the voice of Dockery, Hinson’s first choice when she was deciding who fit best with such a strong-minded historical figure.

Media Credit: Photo courtesy of Laura Waters Hinson

“She [Dockery] has the ability to communicate strength and authority, but also grace and beauty and loveliness, and I thought that that reflected who Lilias was,” Hinson said.

Hinson had her own star-struck moment when she met Dockery in London to discuss the film.

“She’s amazing, nothing like her character in Downton Abbey,” Hinson said. “It was surreal to see her after watching Downton Abbey for all these years.”

Hinson completed her first documentary, about Rwanadan genocide survivors, in 2005. The documentary would go on to win the David L. Woper Student Documentary award. Since then, she has produced and directed four other documentaries.

She says all of her works are designed to leave the audience asking questions.

“I want to move people with the stories that I tell,” Hinson said.

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