Appearances by Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, David Newell, Yo-Yo Ma, Kailyn Davis, Joe Negri, McColm Cephas Jr., François Scarborough Clemmons
(7-Very Good Film)
Enlightening. Fascinating. Inspiring.
Fred Rogers reminds me of Longfellow Deeds from Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936); meek, quietly charismatic, odd, earnest, and full of conviction. The star and creator of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, a children’s program that ran for over thirty years, has become an unofficial sainted figure, and this documentary examining his life and career does an incredible job of honoring him, attempting to understand him, and showing him as a human being with flaws too. Fred Rogers was not like anybody else, and through a series of interviews with the people who knew him best, Won’t You be My Neighbor reinforces his tremendous legacy. It also showcases his uniqueness as a person. My fear for the film was that it would be a glossed over account of his life. I was curious to see how they would handle sensitive topics like racism and homosexuality, but also how Fred Rogers handled social issues, almost certain that the documentary would avoid such things. It doesn’t. Strong film.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-
Narrated by Gilles Queant
Cultural snapshot of Peking, now Beijing, in 1956 under Mao Zedong’s rule, though the whimsical tone and especially eloquent narration establish the film as an anthropological study rather than a political one. Many of the shots and images captured by the filmmakers are incredible. Candid shots of children passing, school in session, foggy mist covering the fields. Aided by Eastman color, the film looks stunning at every turn. If you’re interested in foreign cultures and different eras, you’ll find much to enjoy in this piece. Marker makes no statement as far as I can tell. This belongs more to the fly on the wall style of documentary filmmaking, though at times we see the filmmakers converse or engage with the natives on the screen. For those less interested in the subject, such as myself, you’ll find yourself, drifting off.
Another fascinating entry in ESPN’s running 30 for 30 series, this one follows the early to mid-’90s NBA rivalry between the Reggie Miller led Indiana Pacers and the Patrick Ewing led New York Knicks. The story is set with the retirement of Michael Jordan, who, with the Chicago Bulls, dominated the Eastern Conference as well as the rest of the NBA. With MJ gone, the rest of the league felt stronger than ever that their time was now, and the pressure was higher than ever. Two of the biggest contenders are chronicled in this funny and illuminating documentary, highlighting the teams’ similarities, Reggie Miller’s antagonistic persona, and Spike Lee’s passionate courtside fandom. The film is a lightweight compared to some of the other more substantial 30 for 30s, but it still demonstrates the power of sports, which I believe is the key to the series greatness. It answers the question of why we love sports.
Narrated by John Huston
John Huston’s gritty war documentary covers a significant battle in the Italian Campaign of World War II. In its day, the film was considered shocking; almost too real for viewers to take in. Now, the film is basically a brief history lesson, and as such will only be truly interesting to history buffs.