Last week my friend Jen and I attended the documentary shorts program at the Tribeca film festival. I had never gone to the festival before and Jen brought the tickets into my life at the last moment, introducing an unexpected by highly enjoyable activity into my afternoon.
Personally I do not often tend to think to watch a documentary, although I have no idea why that is since I do tend to really enjoy them when I take the time to sit down and engage. Plus the short format was a lovely way to spend the afternoon. We got a taste of six different documentary moments on a rage of topics that prompted discussions we would never have discussed otherwise.
A .45 at 5oth which was about the involvement of actor John Cromwell with the Black Panthers. It was kind of choppy in that there was not very much background information given and even thought the incident in question seemed like it had the makings to be a great story, I have to say I was left vaguely intrigued but ultimately confused.
Out of Infamy: Michi Nishuira Weglyn told the story of a Japanese-American costume designer cum investigative author who delved into the government records and history behind the American internment camps for residents of Japanese descent during World War II. Weglyn and her family spent the duration of the war at a camp in the south-west; after the war they moved to the east coast and eventually Weglyn became a Broadway costume designer before working on the Perry Cuomo show. Apparently in the middle of this successful career Weglyn dropped it all to research the camps and to work towards reparations and against racism for the rest of her life. It was a very interesting story and I know that I now plan to pick up a copy of the groundbreaking book that forced an awareness of the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Hard Rock Havana tells the story of Cuban heavy metal band Zeus who have been together for twenty years and are now the premier band of that genre in Cuba. Featuring intimate interviews with band members that focused on the longevity of the band and the sort of family life that has evolved over the years. They discussed concepts of freedom and self-expression inherent to their music and the juxtaposition of heavy metal within the political and social context of life in Cuba.
Missed Connections, unsurprisingly, explores that wondrous function of Craigslist. The filmmakers interviewed a handful of missed connections, from a couple who ended up getting married, to a man who feels he lost the single love of his life one night and never heard back. It was entertaining and covered a range of incredulous ridiculousness, regret and a fairy tale ending. On the downside, it was just that: the personalization of a few missed connections, entertaining but to what end? Although I guess for a short documentary, a snippet in itself, maybe that works.
New American Soldiers followed the stories of three immigrants who chose to join the United States army for a variety of reasons, one in common across the board was the lure of citizenship on an accelerated time line. On the one hand a soldier from Ghana won the visa lottery online and is now living his dream of being an American soldier, based on a love of the Rambo movies. A young woman originally from Peru who has been living in the U.S. since she was a teenager has dreams of becoming a doctor. She had been struggling to work full-time and go to school at the same time when she saw an army brochure and became intrigued by the promise of tuition coverage in exchange for service. She does not want to fight, she never thought of the military life but for her the exchange is worth it. The third case is that of a Mexican immigrant who illegally immigrated to California as a small child with his mother. He joined up to create a better life for his family. He was not granted citizenship before his deployment and died in action in the Middle East. At the moment Congress is considering whether or not citizenship should be automatically awarded posthumously to soldier who died in the defense of a country they cannot even claim as their own. I find it boggling that this is not already in effect, frankly. This soldier’s family missed the deadline to apply for posthumous citizenship and are very bitter about his and their entire experience with the army. This was definitely one of the most provoking documentaries in the program.
White Lines and the Fever: The Death of DJ Junebug the category winner looks into the origins of hip-hop at the end of the 1970s and early 80s in the Bronx. DJ Junebug was one of the original masters of mixing back in the day at Disco Fever. The film explores the exciting early days of hip-hop within the context of the drug-ridden underworld of the Bronx. Junebug led a double life as a brilliant artist and a high volume drug dealer… it did not end well. Director Travis Senger said afterward at the Q&A session that he was interested in doing a more work on the period, possibly on a longer format. It is definitely easy to see this research and work turning into a full length documentary or a full-on feature film; I would see that.
As usual, I’m no expert… but those are my thoughts.
The Tribeca Film Festival is over, but seriously the next time you have an opportunity to explore via shorts, I highly recommend the experience– documentary or otherwise.