Select Festivals: RiverRun, deadCENTER, Tallgrass, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Newport Beach
About: A Marine copes with his PTSD by walking across the country, visiting fellow veterans.
Jon Hancock joined the US Marine Corps straight out of high school, completed boot camp just days before September 11, 2001, and joined an infantry battalion nicknamed the Magnificent Bastards, which would suffer 25% fatalities. Like many veterans, after he returned to civilian life, Hancock suffered from PTSD, which resulted in self-destructive behavior, excessive drinking, fighting, and a suicide attempt. Filmmaker Brian Morrison follows the wounded warrior as he sets out on a cross country walk to reconnect with his former brothers-in-arms or their surviving family, having discovered that walking helped him manage his PTSD. Accompanying these reunions are surprisingly candid, vulnerable discussions about the impact of war on soldiers, highlighting the lack of proper counseling and preparedness they are given as they transition away from service and back into society. While the film is worthwhile for this honesty and earnestness, it is also excessively long, with too many unnecessary music interludes that mainly serve as padding and diminish the doc’s overall affect.
Select Festivals: CAAMFest, San Diego Asian, Los Angeles Asian Pacific, Vancouver Asian, Philadelphia Asian American, DisOrient, NY International Children’s
About: Elementary school students from NYC’s Chinatown-based PS 124 stage a production of FROZEN KIDS.
PS 124, also known as Yung Wing Elementary, is selected as one of the few schools permitted to present the kids version of the hit Disney musical FROZEN. Notably, the school’s theatre club is the only predominantly Asian American group to participate in the Junior Theater Festival, which allows filmmakers Hui Tong and Kelly Ng to open up a conversation between students, parents, and teachers about Asian cultural and academic stereotypes as they relate to the arts. Their modest film follows the familiar path of behind-the-scenes performance chronicles – auditions, casting, disappointments, joy, rehearsals, countdown to opening night, doubts, and, ultimately, a successful debut – with the welcome twist of focusing on a charismatic group of kids from cultural backgrounds who almost never see themselves on stage or screen.
About: A look back at peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine in 2000 through the memories of American diplomats.
The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read: Filmmaker Dror Moreh proved himself an expert navigator of powerful figures in his Oscar-nominated film The Gatekeepers, about the leaders of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency. Now he employs his talents to probe the American-led negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in 2000. The main insiders on camera are six top American diplomats who testify to the human factor—the personal contact between the lead politicians Ehud Barak, Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton—for a revelatory look at a lost opportunity.
About: An international assemblage of scientists work together to capture the first image of a black hole.
In April 2019, the Event Horizon Telescope – a worldwide network of synchronized radio observatories – made history by revealing a photograph of a supermassive black hole in the M87 galaxy, 55 million light-years from Earth. Filmmaker Peter Galison goes behind the scenes to profile members of the team that made this groundbreaking event possible, individuals operating on the titular edge of human knowledge. Despite this, the film offers very clear explanations of basic scientific concepts at the core of their work, particularly how the EHT is set up to work as a de facto Earth-sized instrument, deftly using animation and graphics. Recognizing that the larger issues being addressed are both dry and far too advanced for the typical viewer, Galison wisely leans in on the human side of the equation, and if it’s not always riveting, the resulting project is a respectful and worthwhile attempt to acknowledge the importance of advanced scientific exploration.