Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Love Free or Die

Release Date: 2011
Production Company: Reveal Productions
Director: Macky Alston
Run time: 82 minutes
Seen on: Maryland Film Festival, MICA Brown Center, Sunday, May 6, 4:30PM
Hosted by: Macky Alston and Bishop Gene Robinson
Confirmed Showing: PBS Independent Lens
Recommended: Yes
Awards: Sundance U.S. Documentary Special Jury Prize for an Agent of Change

Love Free or Die was screened this past Sunday at MICA's Brown Center.  I was surprised that the audience was not bigger because the film was hosted by both the director, Macky Alston, and the subject, Bishop Gene Robinson.  I suppose the fact that it was a Sunday afternoon made for a smaller audience. 

The film captures the experiences of Bishop Gene Robinson, an Episcopalian Bishop in New Hampshire and also "the first openly gay partnered bishop to be consecrated a bishop in the three largest high church traditions of Christendom."  Bishop Robinson's consecration started a schism within the greater Anglican Church which has an estimated 80 million members worldwide.  The documentary was filmed in 2008 and catches this political and theological issue mid-stride.

In July 2008, Anglican bishops from across the globe gathered in England for the Lambeth Conference.  Rev. Robinson was not invited and banned from preaching in England.  Fortunately, a London priest, Giles, invites him to preach at his congregation.  "I am a straigforward parish priest who believes in this stuff and has the balls to say it."  He is interrupted early at the beginning of the service.  A man near the front of the crowd stands up and starts shouting at him.  The scene is shot from the balcony and you are unable to make out his words.  He is ushered from the church by several church members.  Rev. Robinson is visibly shaken, "Pray for that man.  Fear is a terrible thing.  And the opposite of love is not hate, it is fear."  Rev. Robinson is choked up, "Sometimes when evil comes your way, the only thing to do is to have it stop right there and absorb it."

The film interviews church members on both sides of the issue.  These bishops read the same sources, but come to different conclusions.  Despite their differences, the church members are cordial and positive to one another.  They all have deeply held beliefs and communicate them with respect and decorum.  Even so, the actions can be hurtful.  Rev. Robinson hears that the Lambeth Conference has his picture up in the security office.  "I am not going to storm the cathedral.  It's another one of those small hurtful things."

The film also shows Rev. Robinson's private life.  He met his partner, Mark Andrew in 1987.  Robinson was previously married, and amicably divorced after coming out.  His two daughters Ella and Jamee are interviewed at Gene and Mark's civil union.  We are also introduced to his parents, Charles and Imogene.  They describe how their relationships with some friends lessened and changed after Mark came out.
"It's going to take a lot of religious voices to fight those religious sources."

In July 2009, the Episcopal General Convention met in Anaheim, CA.  The Bishop of Pittsburgh, Rev. Bob Warren leads a breakaway faction with Rev. Rick Warren.  At the Convention, two issues are up for a vote: Allowing the consecration of openly gay bishops and Blessing same-sex marriages in states where it is legal.  "It feels like a make or break situation for me." 

At the convention, the resolutions are discussed and debated.  Here you can see the true struggle of faith.  A bishop from Indiana says that he prays for God to guide him and take the "scales off his eyes" in the future.  "I don't have clarity."  The documentary is fascinating because it shows the struggle of the faithful without shouting and finger pointing.

This film is a moving, thoughtful, and funny portrait of a man and a community in turmoil.  Rev. Robinson is a warm and caring individual who puts a human face on an epic debate.  He is comfortable with himself which allows others to relax "into the comfort and normalcy of it all." 

"It's just an accident of history that it turned out to be me."

After the screening, there was a question and answer session with the director, Macky Alston and Bishop Gene Robinson.  It was surreal to watch a documentary for an hour and a half and then suddenly the subject is right there in front of you.  Rev. Robinson waved off his standing ovation saying, "I think the hero of this movie is the church."  It was able to change after 2000 years. 

The questions were mostly directed towards Rev. Robinson.  He was asked questions about the future of the LGBT community in other churches.  While he couldn't speak for other faiths, he was able to see what was happening and counsel others in how to make changes in their own churches.  He also spoke about the importance of intersectionality in fighting discrimination.  Oppressed groups working together are far more powerful than the oppressors.  He stressed the importance of bringing all groups together.

The film has screening times available on its website.   The director is also making it possible to set up your own screening in your community center, church, or even your own living room.  They want to make sure that the film is seen.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Release Date: 2012
Production Company: Loki Films
Directors: Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
Run time: 90 minutes
Seen at: Maryland Film Festival, MICA Brown Center Saturday, May 5 1:30PM
Confirmed Showing: Independent Lens on PBS May 27th
Hosted by: Rachel Grady
Recommended: Yes
Award: Sundance U.S. Documentary Editing Award
NEW: Now available streaming on Netflix and DVD.

I screened Detropia immediately after seeing Ethel on Saturday afternoon.  Before I get into the review, I sat right next to one of the directors, Rachel Grady, as I sat outside eating my PB&J in between the screenings.  I realized it later as she was introducing the film with MFF Director Jed Dietz.  It was random, and now another reason why I think film festivals are great.

Detropia focuses on the plight of Detroit, Michigan.  Once the fastest growing city in America, it is now the fastest shrinking city in America.  Detroit is 139 miles, the size of San Francisco, Boston, and New York combined.  40 miles of Detroit are vacant.  This documentary highlights the plight of the city and its citizens, but does not provide a neat answer.  One cannot get a neat, concise answer to a problem as big as the one Detroit is facing.

The documentary follows individuals and sees Detroit through their eyes.  Crystal Starr, a Detroit blogger, takes us into the ruins of Detroit.  Detroit from her perspective seems like the ruins of a once great society like Athens or Rome.  The difference is that this society is still living and we gain a sense of the people.  Massive train stations, apartments, and office buildings are left to beautifully decay. 

There are over 100,000 abandoned homes and lots in Detroit.  Some are left.  Some are torn down by city contracts.  Some are burned by arsonists.  Some are torn down and the scrap steel is sold for 11 cents a pound.  (Scrap metal is the United States largest export to China.)

George Mc Gregor, president of United Auto Workers Local 22, gives us an insight into the crumbling auto industry in Detroit.  He drives us all over the city, showing us what once was.  "When the plant left, the neighborhood left."  In 10 years, Detroit lost 50% of its manufacturing jobs.  In 10 years, the US lost 50,000 factories and 6,000,000 people lost their jobs.

Tommy Stephens, owner of the Ravens Lounge, shows us how the loss of the factories affected the neighborhoods as well.  There is a great exchange near the end of the film between him and a female companion.  They consider the future of America competing with countries like China.  She asks "should we lower our standard of living?"  He responds, "I think we're going to have to."  "They're not going to like that."

Detroit's mayor, Dave Bing, was shown in a meeting with urban planners.  This meeting was the first and only one they allowed the production to film.  The urban planners tried to create a land use policy in which they can find sizeable neighborhoods to invest in.  This would mean consolidating the population in order to provide better city services such as emergency vehicles and bussing.  When the plan to consolidate the city is revealed, the citizens of Detroit are outraged.  They consider downsizing a form of segregation that would  have "Gardens every motherf**king-where."  Others are willing to have half a city if they could have it the way they used to.  The debate rages on.

But there is some growth in Detroit.  In 2010, the census reveals that the population has dropped to 713,000, the lowest in 100 years.  But there is a 59% increase in young residents.  Young people are choosing to move to Detroit for opportunities they could not have elsewhere.  We meet 2 street artists who considered Baltimore and New York before moving.  In Detroit, they can buy their own loft for $25,000 and still afford their art studio.  They enjoy the beauty in the desolation of Detroit.  "We can fail, because if we do, we haven't really fallen anywhere."

In all, Detropia is a beautfully shot picture of an American city in turmoil.  We are left with more questions than answers.  We must consider the future of all our cities. How can they survive?  In the words of Tommy Stephens, "This is coming to you.  That's just my opinion."

Monday, May 7, 2012


Release Date: 2012
Production Company: Moxie Firecracker Films
Director: Rory Kennedy
Run time: 97 minutes
Seen at: Maryland Film Festival, screened at MICA Brown Center, May 5 11am
Recommended: Yes
Hosted by: Meaghan Kennedy Townsend (Oldest granddaughter of Ethel Kennedy)

I screened this film at Maryland Film Festival this past weekend.  I have never attended a film festival before, but I now understand them.  It was great to see the community of people attending new films.  I also have not seen a documentary with such a large audience before.  I volunteered at the festival, and received free screening passes.  It was a great trade-off, and I saw 5 films for free.

Ethel was also produced by HBO Documentary Films. HBO is now screening their documentaries at festivals before they release them.  Because it was an HBO production, it had great production value. 

Rory Kennedy is the eleventh and youngest child of Robert and Ethel Kennedy.  She was born 6 months after her father's death, so she was raised by her mother.  The close relationship between the director and her subject allowed for an exceptional film.  The film uses home movies and recordings not previously released to show "behind the scenes of history." There are also interviews with Ethel and her children recalling their lives.  This proves to be very funny and engaging.  The director has to prop up her siblings and make sure that they are comfortable and ready.  Meanwhile, Ethel did not think the film was a good idea.  Who would care about it?

The film tells the story of Ethel's life, beginninng with how Ethel and Robert Kennedy met.  Ethel was college roommates with Jean Kennedy, sister of Robert and John.  They planned a ski trip to Mont Tremblant in Quebec, Canada.  The documentary is entertaining and touching.  It tells the humorous stories, such as the kids tearing through the White House or watching the sharpshooters in the FBI basement.  (Apparently J. Edgar Hoover was not a fan of kids.)  It also tells the difficult stories, such as Ethel losing both parents in a plane crash when she was only 27.  We learn the difficulties Robert faced after the death of his brother.  Ethel is does not articulate her feelings on Robert's death.   However, her reaction speaks volumes.  Ethel has never remarried.

Ethel's oldest granddaughter, Meghan Kennedy Townsend hosted the question and answer session after the film.  She felt that this was an accurate portrayal of her grandmother.  When asked how Ethel felt about the documentary, she was instructed to "tell them how great Rory did."  This statement reflects the character of Ethel Kennedy revealed in the documentary.  She raised 11 children, instilling a sense of reverence of history and knowledge of the greater world around them.  Many of her children have gone into public service or work in some form of social justice.  Yet, Ethel is unwilling to take the credit for her children.  She puts the reasoning on inheriting the traits from her husband.  Rory reminded her mother that he has been gone for 40 year and that Ethel raised them.  Ethel still does not take the credit for her remarkable work.  She believes that the film is about her family, but not about herself.