Film Fulfillment

Robert Shafran, David Kellman, and Eddy Galland: the subjects of the documentary ‘Three Identical Strangers’ seen at Full Frame 2018.

At 2018’s Full Frame, each documentary calls in a slightly different crowd, nuanced but certainly noticeable. Those attending the Yazidi justice-themed ‘On Her Shoulders’ seem younger on average than Mister Rogers’ fans seeing ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’, who in turn seem less artsy than the ‘Rebuilding in Miniature’ and ‘306 Hollywood’ crew. There was a film for everyone; one of the best aspects in full frame is the combination of broadly-appealing movies like ‘Three Identical Strangers’ with more targeted films such as ‘On Her Shoulders’ and ‘Bending Lines’. That said, as a spectator of all these showings, I wanted to comment on the merit of each actual film — whether or not the movie’s expectation from the audience seems to coincide with the actual content and character.

The first film I saw was ‘On Her Shoulders’, which I thought correctly described itself as “documenting the quiet moments between [Nadia Murad’s] public appearances.” The documentary seems to place a unique value on human authenticity, putting the understanding of Nadia’s character over sensationalism of the events that she endures. While there are two predominantly humorous scenes, the movie (way more so than the others) has an air of seriousness and urgency. Her language barrier and the sometimes flustered series of events contributes this style of viewing experience; the ability to see, through Nadia’s eyes, the uncertain future for her people. Although the theme of Yazidi justice did not appeal to my interest as much as the other films, it did a remarkably good job at fulfilling my expectations on the film based on Full Frame’s description.

Unlike ‘On Her Shoulders’, I was not expecting to see ‘Bending Lines’ and ‘Rebuilding in Miniature’ on Friday, but decided to join the last minute line at the last minute. The subject for the latter was listed as “exquisitely detailed dioramas of places” created by Iraqi refugee Ali Alamedy “in an attempt to heal his disrupted relationship to home;” this description is fairly vague and I was unsure whether or not the documentary was to be poignant, technical, artsy, justice-oriented, or humorous. It turned out to be teaspoon of humor mixed in with a tablespoon of charm and a gallon of “how did Ali actually manage to make a mini-desk more detailed than an actual one?” We chuckled at the placement of the mini-toilet-flush-handle and stared in awe at his artistry. Broadly speaking, it did not fulfill the latter part of ‘Rebuilding in Miniature’s description, which alludes to loss and eye-dampening sentimentality. But I am thankful for this expectation gap because, with all due respect, I did not need the next film to be sad like ‘On Her Shoulders’.

I do wish ‘Rebuilding in Miniature’ were longer as there seemed to be storyline lost in the short run time; unlike ‘Bending Lines’, which I think should be a bit more compacted. ‘Bending Lines’ is a mellow, slow-paced film and essentially if a documentary were a nice elderly person. Admittedly, I dozed off during certain points and felt guilt afterwards, but not too much because the person beside me did likewise. However, as a 3-D modular origami aficionado, I think it is an ingenuous idea to make a documentary about simplicity: the geometry of cracks in sidewalks, creases in leaves, the ripples of taste buds, or as in the film’s description, “cracks in dried mud to pine cones and armadillo scales.” While the actual mechanics behind warping the pipe cleaners is easy, the mathematics and physics behind Robert Wiggs’ patterns are complex. Likewise, the ‘twist octahedron’ seems like an underwhelming figure at first glance, but when you consider the fact that it’s a space-filler and is tough to visualize, it is amazing. Thanks to these artists for dedicating their lives to exploring the little structures in our world, a facet of life which most of us ignore. Yes, this film did satisfy my expectation set by the summary in the 2018 Full Frame catalog.

Note: I am not ranking these films necessarily by how they fulfill the expectations set by their description, but by how much I actually liked the film. 

Also, I am purposefully leaving out information here because these are documentaries you need to see whatever you do, and best without too much prejudgement preceding your required viewing. (Also, quite frankly, this blog post is getting long already).

Bronze Medal: ‘306 Hollywood’

‘306 Hollywood’ is tops. The amount of effort needed to create this film seems unimaginable. It is artistic, super funny, provocative in a weird grandmother-ish sort of way (you’ll see), and in fact, the grandma reminded me strongly of Richard Simmons. The white sneakers, flamboyant attire, personality, everything. Her quirks are amazing. Also, the message behind the excavation of her life is so meaningful, essentially saying that not only those resembling the wealthy Rockefellers matter historically — ordinary people do too! We deserve to be remembered if the atoms in our body have disintegrated and gone to make something else, and turns out such recollections can be quite entertaining.

Silver Medal: ‘Three Identical Strangers’

A documentary that leaves you with more questions than answers, ‘Three Identical Strangers’ drew in a crowd so large that I ended up with a side seat on the second balcony. The film’s story, which is about triplets discovering each other, is so irresistible to hear even without the baggage and mysteries surrounding their separation. Another positive element about this documentary is that it immediately warms up to the meat of the story, instead of messing around a while. You really get sucked in; I was one of the only people who did not stay for the questionnaire at the end. Basically, it makes you leave Full Frame wondering if you have a secret twin somewhere out there yourself.

Gold Medal: ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’

I came, snagged a bottom-floor backseat, and left. Weeping. It was so good — I can’t believe I was considering a crime documentary over this endearing, funny, light-hearted portrait of mister Rogers himself, who was apparently exactly the same person off stage as he was on stage. Clips of him talking on-air, off-air, and with friends showed his kind-hearted nature that enabled children to navigate through their youth in a positive way. Did you know he was friends with Yo-Yo Ma, the famed cellist? Anyway, there was literally one scene where the audience began cheering out loud — and when we left Full Frame, we all felt like we morphed into better individuals. Even though he died in 2003, he lives on in the thousands of grown-ups who learned dignity and self-respect from Rogers as kids.

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