In a still from the documentary “Inocente,” Inocente Izucar is shown painting “Masters of Disguise.” The film is on MTV on Friday night at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time. Credit Sean Fine
Inocente Izucar wants to join the circus someday and learn sign language. She paints her face every morning with colors and designs as bold as those on her sprawling canvases. She sometimes orders dessert before dinner because she emphatically believes “you can never go wrong with a root-beer float.”
Yet despite a quiet tenacity, endearing quirkiness and crystal-clear opinions, the teenage Ms. Izucar recently found herself incredulous that a group of young students at an art workshop in the Morrisania section of the Bronx looked up to her.
“They want to be just like me,” Ms. Izucar said in an interview. “I don’t want to be just like me.”
As a child Ms. Izucar moved more than 30 times in nine years — sleeping in crowded quarters beside her three younger brothers under one temporary roof after another, and sometimes even outdoors. Her father was deported to Mexico for domestic abuse. She once stood on a bridge and convinced her mother not to jump. Her art and chronic homelessness are the subject of a short documentary, financed through private donations and grants, that will have its premiere Friday on MTV.
In a still from the documentary “Inocente,” Inocente Izucar is shown painting “Masters of Disguise.” The film is on MTV on Friday night at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time. Credit Christopher Gregory/The New York Times
The husband-and-wife directing team of Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine(he also served as cinematographer; she as writer) did not set out to make a film about a homeless teenage artist in San Diego. They planned a more general documentary about homelessness, struck by the statistic that 1 in 45 children in the United States live on the street, in shelters or in motels.
But three years ago they met Ms. Izucar, then 15, with her elaborately decorated face and siren-red Chuck Taylors.
“She had something that was sort of childlike in her vulnerability and innocence and the way she dreamed about waiting for her life to start — as well as a beyond-her-years maturity,” Ms. Fine said.
Added Mr. Fine, “We were taken with her.”
For “Inocente,” which has won awards on the festival circuit, the Fines first spent four days with Ms. Izucar, now 18, getting to know her and making sure she was comfortable being filmed before they turned on the camera. Ms. Izucar said she never felt self-conscious.
“It was a documentary so I didn’t have to act out anything,” she said. “They just followed me around everywhere.”
The directors found Ms. Izucar through ARTS: A Reason To Survive, a nonprofit organization in San Diego that provides therapeutic arts programming and education, as well as college and career preparation to children and young adults dealing with homelessness, domestic violence, illness and other major life challenges.
The place became a refuge for her — from a distant mother; from a school where she was ridiculed for her face paint; and from a nomadic existence.
When Ms. Izucar first walked into ARTS at the age of 12 — in her rainbow tutu and high-top sneakers — its founder, Matt D’Arrigo, immediately saw that she had promise. “She’s exactly the kind of person I created this program for,” he said.
Ms. Izucar was selected for the program’s annual art show and given three months to produce 30 pieces, a process the film follows. Over time Ms. Izucar said her work has evolved. “It’s gotten cleaner,” she said. “It still comes from the heart. Every painting has a story.”
The producers — Yael Melamede and Shine Global, a nonprofit production company dedicated to ending the abuse and exploitation of children through films — said Ms. Izucar embodied the many issues they wanted to address: homelessness, immigration, undocumented children and arts education.
Shine has collaborated with the directors before — on the 2007 Oscar-nominated documentary feature “War/Dance,” about children from war-torn Uganda who aspire to win their national music competition. (Ms. Melamede was a producer of the 2003 Oscar-nominated film “My Architect,” about Louis Kahn.)
Because “Inocente” is just 40 minutes, the producers hope it will be shown in museums and libraries and that it becomes part of school curriculums, accompanied by art workshops and discussions.
Ms. Izucar has participated in several postscreening workshops recently, like the one in the Bronx this month at DreamYard Project, an arts education program and school.
Yet despite the power of her work and personality, Ms. Izucar is diminutive, soft-spoken and shy. “I don’t like all the attention — it’s just not my thing,” she said. “I like to be alone.”
It was perhaps inevitable that the film would change Ms. Izucar’s life. In addition to earning money from odd jobs, she is now able to support herself on her paintings, which sell for $25 to $5,000 apiece. At a New York art show of her work this month — held at the Tribeca Grand Hotel and organized by Ryan Brooks, one of the film’s executive producers — 24 of 30 paintings sold, along with 25 prints.
“I feel like they’re overpriced,” Ms. Izucar said, “especially because I like to give paintings away.”
About six months ago she rented her own small apartment, where she paints and lives. It is the first time she has been able to unpack.
“I have all my plates, I have all my paints — I know where everything is in my house,” Ms. Izucar said. “It’s an interesting feeling, not having everything in boxes.”
Ms. Izucar has no desire to take art classes. “I don’t feel like I want to learn the right way or the wrong way,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Who’s van Gogh? Picasso? Who’s that?’ It’s embarrassing because everyone knows except me. I know friends’ artwork, but not really old, expensive art. I don’t understand art. I never will.”
Toward the end of Ms. Izucar’s New York stay — which began with her first time on a plane — it was clear that the trip had taken a toll. “I think 10 days was a little too much for me,” she said.
Besides, she was eager to return to the rabbit she recently adopted, an albino named Luna, “because she’s pure white like the moon.”
Rabbits live about 10 years, she said, so she will have to put off joining the circus or going anywhere else, for that matter: Ms. Izucar is determined to give her new bunny a stable home.
“I want to stay in one place,” she said. “I’ve never stayed in one place for more than three months.”