Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Wow! I can’t think of a more sincere, thorough look at a man dedicated to making the world a better place. I can be sarcastic and skeptical, you’ve got to have a heart of stone to not be moved by this documentary about the work of Fred Rogers, the force behind the classic children’s show Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood.

This 2018 documentary shows Fred Rogers’ life from when he started his career planning to go seminary and then go into ministry. He was about to enter ministry just as television was gaining steam. Back then children’s television was little more than mean spirited slapstick comedy. While he would have made a fine pastor, he impacted the country much more through broadcast.

Fred understood the power of television and the complexity of children. While networks saw kids as needing little more than cheap laughs, Rogers saw that the medium could do more to help children understand their emotions and the problems of the world that scare us all.

Because it was so different, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood won kids, parents and child development experts over. It’s the one show I know of that doesn’t overstimulate children.

The film features his  wife, sons, the actors in the program and others in the media explaining their experience and insights on Fred. It shows Fred interacting with kids as well as speaking before congress. Moreover, it discusses the parodies and challenges that Fred struggled with. It even shows the protestors who came to his funeral. I was surprised that anyone would protest against Mr. Rogers at his funeral in 2003.

No one has followed in his footsteps, which is a pit. We’ve got plenty of snarky humor, more sincerity would be welcome.

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Life After Terror

I just watched an interesting documentary called Life After Terror on NHK, a cable channel from Japan. The documentary shows the efforts on an Indonesian man named Huda who has started an NGO to help rehabilitate people who got involved in ISIL. Most of this program shows how he helped a young woman who convinced her family, her extended family so there’s at least a dozen people, to leave Jakarta and to to Syria, where they’ll find peace. I was amazed that the father’s solution to not having his daughter go to Syria alone to join ISIL aka ISIS was to uproot the entire family and go with her.

The focus of the 28 minute documentary is Noor Huda, who after discovering that one of his old school friends was partly responsible for the Bali Bombings, leaves his job as a journalist for the Washington Post to start an NGO with the mission of reintegrating terrorists into society.

You can see this short documentary here on NHK till March 18th. You’re sure to learn a lot, as I did.

Three Identical Strangers

Wow! I can’t stop thinking about this movie. A couple people summarized it and the idea of a documentary about three men who were adopted discovering that they’re triplets, separated shortly after birth did intrigue me.

Born in 1961 three baby boys were adopted each by a family from a different socio-economic class though the Louise Wise Agency. When one begins community college, he’s weirded out by all the people greeting him and calling him Eddie. Every where he goes people are happy to see “Eddy” even though this young man’s name was Bobby. A friend of Eddy’s figures out that the two are twins.

Soon Eddy meets Bobby and they’re fast friends/reunited brothers. The story goes viral in the papers. Then things get even more unlikely. David Kellman opens the paper and sees two boys who look like him. He quickly learns that he’s a triplet. The three become a sensation and are on The Today Show, Donahue and the entire talk show circuit of the 1980s. They learn they’ve got all the same mannerisms and tastes.

They’re overjoyed and become inseparable pals. In time they move in to a New York apartment and start a restaurant called Triplets.

But the parents, while open to loving all these boys, are angry. How could this adoption agency not tell them their son had siblings? Their attempts at getting answers and justice are thwarted. A meeting with the agency leaders amounts to nothing. The law firms they approached for help turn them away because their employees may want to adopt through Louise Wise, which struck me as odd given how unethical this revelation is. Wouldn’t it be better for the truth to come out, this agency close and another that is more open and truthful take its place?

A journalist investigating research on twins learns about a study by Peter Neubrauer on nature vs. nurture. In this study done with twins and triplets at the Louise Wise Agency. Thus the triplets and other multiple birth adoptees were guinea pigs for a psychological study neither they nor their parents agreed to. It’s frightful.

The movie goes on to show the effects of this study on the lives of this innocent trio. It’s a film you won’t forget. The dramatized scenes of the past are done with authenticity and the interviews of the boys and those close to the story are sincere, funny and poignant. The film is well made and original. It’s full of twists and revelations that will hit you hard as you contemplate the impact of scientists playing with people as if they were toys. It’s a must-see film. You should be able to stream it or get the DVD at your library.

Waltz with Bashir

My final film from the library’s Fall Film Challenge was the animated Waltz with Bashir. My first animated documentary, Waltz with Bashir (the president of Lebanon was Bashir Gemayel) shows Ari Folman seeking to remember his experience in the Lebanon War of 1982 . Twenty years after the war, a friend confides in Folman that he’s had recurring nightmares about this war. Folman mentions that he has no memories of his experience in this war. Consequently, he goes on a quest through the fog of the past to reclaim his memories of a massacre. He visits old friends, some who fought and others who’re psychologists to find the truth.

The style of the animation was dark and bold. I found the animation enhanced the documentary and succeeded in producing a jarring look at war. I had no knowledge of this war and while I learned a lot, I realize I probably should find out more so that I don’t have just one point of view. What is particularly interesting was how Folman and others’ not only dealt with the impact of their war experience, but were haunted with how the massacre compared in their minds, their parents’ experience in the concentration camps of WWII.

The ending is haunting not only because of its portrayal of the aftermath of a massacre and its shift from animation to news footage. Waltz with Bashir is not for kids, not even teens, I’d say not just because there’s violence and some explicit sex scenes, but also because the analysis of the past features complex ideas that the few young people can understand.

If you know more about this conflict, please share below in the comment box. I’m eager to expand my knowledge.

*In Hebrew with English subtitles.

Kedi

Even if you’re not a big cat person, I think you’ll find Kedi a fascinating film. A documentary set in Istanbul, where cats run free and the bipedal residents care and feed these nomads, Kedi looks at the relationship between the cats and people of the city.

I’ve never been to Istanbul and prefer dogs to cats, but I still enjoyed the mysterious, aloof felines and the people who respected them. The film consists of people’s views of the cats and their beliefs about the cats’ personalities and benefits. Many people offer very candid narratives, such as one man’s story of how he was down and out after suffering tragedy and how feeding the cats contributed to his turning his life around and becoming gainfully employed and starting a family.

The cats are beautifully photographed in all their regal grace as they move about the city, vying for dominance amongst themselves and adoration from the people. It’s an unusual film that I found curiously uplifting.

Babushkas of Chernobyl

What a terrific film! I have to thank Sharon for recommending it to me. I learned of Babushkas of Chernobyl from the library’s Fall Film Challenge. Here’s what she wrote on the DVD’s Fall Film Challenge slip of paper:

A unique story to be sure. Quoting the co-director Holly Morris, “The dead zone, it turns out, is full of life.” That is a great hook and so true. After the Chernobyl disaster, the Babushkas refused to stay away from their homes. Decades later, they continue to live on their own terms. These women are rock-solid awesome.

Like The Wolfpack, you can put this in the “who knew” category i.e. stranger than fiction. These women find a way.

Yes, this is the story of three grandmas, or Babushkas, who retuned to their homes within the Dead Zone by Chernobyl. They farm here, forage and fish. So daily they eat what’s high in radiation. Yet, and the doctors confirm this, they outlive many of their former neighbors who evacuated. Go figure.

We learn about these tough women and their thinking about living in a ghost town. We also see the teenage boys who’ve taken to sneaking through the barbed wire. These teens play a computer game called S.T.A.L.K.E.R. which is set in the site of the nuclear disaster. They’re drawn to this eerie ghost town, where some of their relatives lived and worked. They see it as romantic.

The Babushkas are sure to warm your heart. Talk about resilient and dedicated.