|Hank's Sundance Blog 2010- Entry #4|
Rebel against the entrenched establishment. Reject authority, fight the power. Re-new your right for freedom and individuality. Docs can help us do that....right?
Redford has said many times that docs are our last bastion of reliable truth since the traditional media “has gone the way of the dodo.” And the docs this year at Sundance cover everything from Iraq to a female comedian's struggle to keep going despite the impenetrable boy's club. But do these films do anything to actually change the way Coke, Chevron and Citibank run the world?
I saw a short doc film my first day here called “The Fence” by Rory Kennedy (Pandemic: Facing AIDS; Ghosts of Abu Ghraib). It's a film about the border fence between Mexico and the US. In the Q&A after the film, she said was inspired to tell the “absurd and tragic story of the fence.” And the film was just that—funny, frustrating, sad. She went into the film with a bias about the subject, and brought out the humor and senselessness of it all. The film will play well (it did play well here of course) with the anti-establishment, anti-government audience, since the film deals a lot with the government waste on the whole border fence project. She did say that a majority of the people who live next/near the fence are against it, which was surprising. But we don't really hear about them since the traditional media mostly covers the minutemen militia people, who of course are pro-fence.
The following day I saw “12th & Delaware” directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp), a film about abortion. They on the other hand wanted to be unbiased in their approach, and made a conscious choice not to choose sides in this divisive issue (altho its pretty easy to guess which side they are on). When an audience member complimented them on the film being unbiased during the Q&A, they said that was what they wanted. It is really sticky and touchy issue to do a film about, as well as dangerous and risky—doctors die over this. A brave, bold choice to make the film. And they had an amazing location (abortion clinic on one side of the street, pro-life on the other and the daily battles between them). But I think they took some life out of the film—by choosing to be totally unbiased they ended up taking us away from the subjects and the film somewhat.
I think its ok to not have bias, even better not to, but I don't think filmmakers should shy away from allowing their point if view come thru. Not that the film isn't rich with nuance and does a wonderful job exposing the motives of both sides of the debate. I was fascinated by being taken inside a pro-life clinic, or into a pro-life church. Just as with 'Jesus Camp', Ewing and Grady get phenomenal access. Still I think filmmakers need to have a point of view and not hesitate to bring that POV into the film, since it breathes more life into a film—it brings the filmmaker into the film, which somehow just connects us more to the story. And connection is always key when you hope to motivate your audience.
So back to my original point which was raised during both Q&A's for these 2 films. Are these problems—immigration and abortion—solvable? Or the environment, nukes, education, health care, justice, or racism for that matter. Are any of the problems raised by docs solvable? Or are filmmakers (and their audiences) just engaging in a futile pursuit against the entrenched state of affairs. Ewing thinks that the abortion issue is too divisive to ever be solved. Kennedy said one of the reasons she wanted to make the film was because it was on no one's radar. She hopes that the film will spark a greater debate on the border fence (Obama ok'd 100 million for the fence last year, sigh), and help create an anti-fence grass-roots movement—which surprisingly does not exist.
These problems may or may not be solvable, but they definitely are changeable—its just up to the audience to make the change. To rebel against the establishment as Sundance keeps reminding us here on screens, catalogs, t-shirts and store fronts. It's like Jilann always says when someone asks her in a Q&A about what is she doing now to raise awareness about criminal justice, health care, etc. She turns it back on the audience, saying that she made the film and created an outreach network, now its up to the audience to act. Reject. Re-new. Rebel.
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