Thursday, June 07, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.08: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Jumping ahead to closing night of the festival because I am slow and distracted and the release of this particular movie has caught up with me, and based upon the larger-than-usual number of likes friends and family gave when I posted the quick version on Letterboxd the night I saw it, there are some people out there who would probably like the heads-up that they can actually go to a theater and see it now.

And, go do that. Brian Tamm, one of the festival's directors, pointed out that they tend to program a lot of movies about bad people, or where decency is rewarded by being put through the wringer, and it can be kind of exhausting for them and even for the people attending the festival after eight days. We're probably not close to summer movie burnout yet, but it probably woo't be a bad thing to slow down and watch something like this in a week or two.

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 May 2018 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

All many people will want and need from Won't You Be My Neighbor? is to be assured that Fred Rogers really was the guy he seemed to be, and to maybe revisit his television house and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to recapture the feeling of love and understanding and utter lack of irony that they could find for a half hour every day during their youth. Filmmaker Morgan Neville does that and does so with earnest sentimentality but not saccharine nostalgia. So, good job there.

What elevates the film is its clarity. Much as his subject did, Neville will show how Fred Rogers did something, say conducting an interview, and point out specific things he did (in that case, tending to get very close to a person and wait for them to elaborate) that enabled him to connect with children in ways many adults don't consider. Without making his film a tutorial on how to produce good content for children, Neville pushes back a bit on any assumption that because Fred Rogers was so singular, and his words often so simple, he must somehow be a creature of instinct rather than someone who considered things carefully.

The filmmakers aren't afraid to show that, as he aged, Rogers would sometimes find himself feeling inflexible the way the rest of us do, though he was also able to grow. There's a touch of disgust in his voice as he talks about certain modern things in the interview footage from later in his life, especially when contrasted to his determined but optimistic testimony before Congress about the need to safeguard public television in 1968, for instance, an understandable reaction to the time Neville spends comparing Rogers's show to the mercenary slapstick most other producers make for children. There's much more ambiguity to how he spends enough time for significance on a couple of sequences thirty years apart, where Mr. Rogers and Officer Clemmons (played by Fran├žois Clemmons) cool their feet in a wading pool - pointedly connecting to how the first segment was about accepting neighbors of different ethnicities in the first case, leaving a little bit of room in the second even though the film includes it close to material on Rogers more unreservedly accepting Clemmons's orientation.

Full review on EFC

No comments: