His curiosity piqued by the human-interest story of a 4-year-old painter, documentary filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev set out to tackle persistent questions about nonfigurative art. If Marla's paintings were being hailed as museum-quality art, then could a child really have produced, say, Jackson Pollock's distinctive drips and squiggles? But Bar-Lev's film wound up being about a very different subject.
The artist in question is Marla Olmstead, a pretty, personable youngster from Binghamton, New York. Her mother, Laura, is a dental assistant. Her father, Mark, an amateur painter, manages the night shift at a nearby Fritos factory. Marla began by imitating her father,...