Filmmaker Michael Flanagan Debuts Documentary on Vernon Fisher in North Texas

by Jessica Fuentes April 15, 2023

Later this month, McAllen-based filmmaker and Glasstire contributor Michael Flanagan will debut his documentary film, Breaking the Code, about Fort Worth-based artist Vernon Fisher at the Dallas International Film Festival. The day after its premiere, the film will also be shown as part of the Thin Line Film Festival in Denton.

A movie poster for the documentary film Breaking the Code by Michael Flanagan.

A poster for Michael Flanagan’s film, “Breaking the Code.”

Mr. Fisher, perhaps one of the most acclaimed and widely-known Texas artists of his generation, has exhibited in museums and galleries across the United States, including the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago; the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo; and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. He is best known for his blackboard paintings, which mimic the look and texture of a chalkboard that has been erased, and utilize layers of pop culture references, symbols, and text. 

Beyond his artistic career, Mr. Fisher was also a long-time professor at the University of North Texas, where he shaped generations of young artists. Former student Jeff Elrod described his time studying with Mr. Fisher as “life changing.” Baseera Khan, who recently won the 2023 MTV reality show The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist, was also a student of Mr. Fisher’s.

A still image of artist Vernon Fisher from Michael Flanagan's "Breaking the Code."

A still image of Vernon Fisher from Michael Flanagan’s “Breaking the Code.”

Mr. Flanagan began working on the project in 2019 as a short film for his MFA thesis in the Documentary Production and Studies program at the University of North Texas. In 2021 he acquired funds to expand his work beyond its original scope, developing the project into his first feature-length film. 

Mr. Flanagan told Glasstire, “As a fellow native Texan, Vernon Fisher’s story of creative perseverance is particularly relatable. But it is also a story that resonates more broadly, with themes that turn an introspective eye on the emotional, psychological, and philosophical depths of the human experience.”

An integral member of the North Texas art community, Mr. Fisher first rose to prominence while being represented by Delahunty Gallery in Dallas during the 1970s. As he achieved success, rather than relocating to New York, Mr. Fisher chose to stay in Texas. 

Mr. Flanagan explained, “The Dallas International Film Festival and the Thin Line Film Festival are the perfect venues to celebrate the career of one of the most important artists of the 20th century, who just so happens to be from North Texas.”

Breaking the Code will be shown on Saturday, April 29 at 5:30 pm at the Dallas International Film Festival, and on Sunday, April 30 at 1 pm at the Thin Line Film Festival. Following these screenings, the film will continue to be presented at film festivals and will seek distribution throughout the year. More information, including information about additional screenings at museums across the U.S., will be available at a later date.


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rick Castro April 20, 2023 - 07:13

Would enjoy seeing the film and seeing some of his art in person

bet joy April 28, 2023 - 13:10

will this be released to youtube or other platforms where it can be available to shut ins?

Michael Flanagan May 16, 2023 - 13:34

Hi Bet,
The film will be broadcast by “Frame of Mind” to PBS stations across Texas in the fall. We’re also looking into options for online streaming and plan to announce more details in the coming months.


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