For My Wife is a moving film by and about Charlene Strong whose partner lost her life during an intense storm. Charlene was denied access to Kate’s hospital room without first securing permission from her partner’s next of kin. In addition, she was later dismissed by the funeral director who would not recognize the important role of Charlene in Kate’s life. After these events, Charlene fought to change the legal system to secure more rights for gay and lesbian couples so that the same barriers would not be faced by other people.
The first half of the film focuses on the initial tragedy and legal battle. The second half revolves around Charlene’s continuing advocacy and the stories of other people who faced similar discrimination.
Despite the importance of the issues raised and Charlene’s emotional story, For My Wife is not consistently engaging. Even with a relatively short 60 minute running time, the film drags in spots and is a bit repetitive.
The Interrupters is a well-intentioned documentary that tells the story of youth violence in Chicago and the good people who intervene to try and end the violence. However, the film is overlong (over 2 hours) and does not provide sufficient unique insights to warrent the running time. Judicious editing could have made this a tight and engaging film, but, as it is, The Interrupters feels repetitive to the point of undermining the importance of the story.
Stonewall Uprising and Freedom Riders are two must see programs from this year’s American Experience slate. Both deal with civil rights issues in the 1960’s. Stonewall Uprising deals with a police raid on the popular gay bar, Stonewall Inn. Freedom Riders tells the story of a group of white and black Americans who traveled by bus together into the segregated south. Both stories are moving, tragic and ultimately triumphant sparking much needed social change.
On the surface, War, Love God and Madness is about filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji who is trying to make the first film in Iraq by an Iraqi filmmaker in 13 years. However, the film is much more about what life was like during the initial years of the US occupation. Through much of the early part of the documentary, the making of the film seems to take a backseat to stories of people’s everyday lives as Al-Daradji tries to assemble the talent needed for his production. As the work takes off in earnest, the filmmakers encounter a tragedy that nearly derails the project.
War, Love, God and Madness seems to meander in the first half, but the diverse elements all contribute to a deeper understanding of the tragedy that is to follow. Because the production is taking place under such stressful conditions, War, Love, God and Madness is suspenseful in ways most documentaries aren’t and is an excellent example of guerrilla filmmaking.
Louder Than a Bomb is a perfectly fine documentary about students from four Chicago area high schools competing in a spoken word poetry competition. Although interesting, the film suffers from familiarity. School kids taking part in competitions have been done plenty of times before and Louder Than a Bomb follows similar patterns: the introduction of the students, the preparation, the competition itself. The students as well fall into expected roles: the underdog, the ones from the school that won before and who want to reclaim their title, the crowd favorite. In fact, these patterns were strong enough that some of the students feel like stereotypes and become cloying to watch. There is comfort in these familiar patterns and Louder Than a Bomb would be enjoyable in the right context, but it doesn’t offer anything new enough or unique enough to push it to the top of my list.