Hopefulness as a Radical New Direction in Documentary Film

I have at times referred to the Full Frame Film Festival as the “Festival of Tears.” Don’t take this as a dig. I am a sincere and devoted follower of documentary film, and I have attended Full Frame with religious regularity for at least a decade. One of the primary endeavors of documentary filmmaking is to provide an open, unmediated window through which an audience can become vicariously immersed in moments of authentic experience. When captured deftly by a filmmaker, these fleeting bits of purity can hit the audience like so many tons of brick. Moved by such wallops, I’ve cried tears of triumphant joy, gut-wrenching empathy, soaring pride and infectious laughter.

As he was introducing his film “Sea of Shadows” on Saturday night, director Richard Ladkani said he had been frustrated by documentary films that shed light on urgent issues of political, environmental or social injustice without indicating paths of action for involvement. He explained that these types of films leave audience members feeling despondent and hopeless. Instead, Ladkani wants to educate his viewers as to how they might become involved in solving the problems his films call attention to. Ladkani’s films could never be described as feel-good (his 2018 film “The Ivory Game,” details the negative political, social and environmental ramifications of the illegal elephant tusk trade. “Sea of Shadows” is also about an illegally sold animal product,. In this case it is the swim bladder of the endangered Mexican totoaba fish, which has become a high-dollar commodity in China), but the heaviness of the content in his films is balanced by a healthy dose of motivational imperative. Ladkani encourages viewers to support the causes his films champion by providing resources and specific action plans for those who want to help. Leaving the theater after seeing “Sea of Shadows,” I felt inspired to share the story of the film and help it to garner a wider audience.

And on that note: below are the social media links for Sea of Shadows. And It sounds like it will be streaming by May. Please watch it!

Facebook: @seaofshadowssos – https://www.facebook.com/pg/seaofshadowsSOS/

Instagram: @seaofshadows – https://www.instagram.com/seaofshadows/

Twitter: @seaofshadowssos – https://twitter.com/seaofshadowsSOS

Incidentally, I didn’t cry during “Sea of Shadows.” Don’t get me wrong. I found the film to be stirring, jolting, heart-breaking and tragic, but it just wasn’t a tear-jerker for me. Was it because of Ladkani’s added ingredient of hopefulness? I think it was actually due to the film’s overall tone, which was that of an action/thriller movie.

p.s. For the record, I don’t actually think that tears are a good unit of currency by which to value documentary films.


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