"A Not So Still Life," a documentary directed by Karen Stanton, examines the life and work of Seattle artist Ginny Ruffner. It is playing at Seattle's SIFF Cinema.

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Movie review 3 stars

“I want the art to invite people to come in,” says the artist Ginny Ruffner of her work. Karen Stanton’s documentary, “A Not So Still Life,” does the same thing: It invites the viewer to enter Ruffner’s life and mind, to stroll through her whimsically decorated Seattle home, become entangled in the Medusa-like strands of her hair (you could film a Tarzan movie on her head, notes a friend) and get lost in the colorful joy of her glass sculptures and paintings.

But there’s more to Ruffner’s story than art, glorious as it is: “A Not So Still Life” is also an inspiring tale of rehabilitation and recovery. About 20 years ago, Ruffner suffered a severe head injury in a car accident; family members, in the documentary, tearfully recall that she was near death, and that the idea of her walking and talking again seemed an impossible dream. “My mind was like a big empty house that you know you used to live in,” reminisces Ruffner in the film, in a slurred but quite intelligible voice, of the weeks and months following her accident, as she struggled to remember what and who she was. Characteristically, she transformed her struggle into art: As she slowly learned to walk again with the help of a cane, she created a series of playful animal sculptures with “balance” as their theme.

Stanton smoothly weaves together talking-head interviews (Ruffner and a number of family members, friends and colleagues, including Dale Chihuly and Tom Robbins) with loving, lingering shots of Ruffner’s art. Only rarely, though, does the film approach the artist’s playfulness, such as in one delightful sequence in which Ruffner waves her cane like a wand and an animated rendering of her newest large sculpture, at its home at Seventh Avenue and Union Street, appears on the screen. You wish “A Not So Still Life” had a few more moments like this, but nonetheless it’s an enticing introduction to a local treasure.

“I always say my favorite piece is my next one,” says Ruffner, looking into her future with optimism. “I want to do things I can’t even imagine now.”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com