Review: The Fragility, Beauty of an Artist’s Process in Leaning Into the Wind

In 2001, filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer released the well-received and hugely successful Rivers and Tides, his first collaboration with Andy Goldsworthy, an artist best known for not only using objects in nature as part of his artwork—stones, colored leaves, sticks, rain, reeds—but also creating performance art pieces using nature as an unknowing partner.

Image courtesy Magnolia Pictures

One such work, in which Goldsworthy stands perilously close to the end of a extremely steep and windy cliff and leans into the abyss, using only the wind to hold him up and keep him from plummeting to his death, gives their latest collaboration its title: Leaning Into the Wind. The film takes a deeper dive into Goldsworthy’s life 16 years later, now working with his daughter Holly as a sometimes assistant.

Although Goldsworthy is often hesitant to discuss his own life or explain his process or artwork, he gives Riedelsheimer just enough to provide narration to images of the artist creating some truly breathtaking, frequently impermanent projects, including using his own body as part of the art. Both the film and the artwork feels fragile and intimate, and the resulting movie provides even greater depth and gives more impressive and hypnotic examples of Goldsworthy awe-inspiring talent and skill.

While the first film was more about capturing the artist’s completed work, Leaning Into the Wind is about the patience and vision of the actual construction and execution. Whether it’s building massive stone structures as a commissioned piece or climbing through a row of shrubs or small trees with great difficultly and sometimes severe pain, Goldsworthy’s process and peace of mind is fully opened for the world to see in this film.

One particularly telling and moving moment involves him contemplating cutting into bedrock (something he’s never done) to help complete a piece. He gets the filmmaker up before dawn to film it, but is torn about the prospect to the point where he ends up in tears and decides against it. His process often involves moving and crafting loose rocks, but the idea of cutting into the earth is too much for him to bear, and the vulnerability on display is so raw and beautiful, you almost feel compelled to turn away. Supported and lifted by yet another stellar Fred Frith score, Leaning Into the Wind is filled with moments like that, all of which says as much about the artist’s sensibilities as it does his respect for the tools of his trade.

To read my exclusive interview with Leaning Into the Wind director Thomas Riedelsheimer, go to the Music Box Theatre’s website.
Picture of the author
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.