A Different Point
young Algerian woman, hugely pregnant with twins, weeps as she recalls
the terrorist bomb that almost killed her grandfather. The INS officer
who denies her asylum tries to hold back tears of frustration as he later
explains his decision, and then begs gruffly, "Turn that damn thing off."
It's Well -Founded Fear, a documentary that takes you into the
political asylum process, where horror is routine and the stakes are too
high not to lie.
A dowager bustles up to her old family mansion in Havana, now a bank.
She tries to wheedle a glimpse of her childhood playroom, while her son
squirms with embarrassment at her side. But when she goes home, her visit
sinks in, and she starts talking back to the Cuban-American right. It's
Our House in Havana, a story about the passions that fueled the
Elián González drama.
An Appalachian filmmaker recalls hearing, back in 1967, that an eccentric
old man had shot a Canadian filmmaker to death for standing on his property.
The terrible news also evoked her deep resentment at the parade of journalists
who too often simply exploited Appalachia's poverty. Thirty years later,
she interviews the dead filmmaker's daughter, now herself the outsider
capturing someone else's reality. It's Stranger with a Camera,
an acutely personal story about the power of the image and the responsibility
of the storyteller.
It is now easy to see these films, all of which are on the P.O.V. public
television series lineup this summer. But they're not going to your local
cineplex, despite lavish critical acclaim. Several of P.O.V.'s selections
debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, the commercial gateway for independent
films. Well-Founded Fear (June 5), by Michael Camerini and Shari
Robertson, was one of the festival's sensations - for a reason.
The filmmakers had won access to long - forbidden territory (the INS chief
hoped to showcase improved procedures). They stayed there long enough
to let us view high - stakes drama from both sides. With their respectful
choices of framing, contrapuntal editing, and fly - on - the - wall camera,
the filmmakers avoid the spectacle of intimacy that is the curse of this
genre. The story ends up being about the INS officers - - the overweight,
overwhelmed, decent people put in the position of deciding other people's
fates three times a day. You can't help asking yourself what you would
do - - and what we as a nation should do.
Well-Founded Fear was a must-see at Sundance. But for documentaries,
that doesn't translate to a hip indie release at a theater near you. Many
award-winning documentaries might never get a mass audience at all, if
it weren't for P.O.V., which searches out provocative, opinionated films
made by people out of conviction and not careerism. At P.O.V., not only
are important subjects addressed as if they really matter, but there's
more range of documentary artistic choice here than you'll get by holding
your thumb down on the remote for a complete channelsurf.
Pat Aufderheide is a
senior editor of In These Times.
In These Times ©
Vol. 24, No. 14