I. Love, Antosha (2019)
“Anton was a dream” (Jeremy Saulnier, director of Green Room (2015)).
This is a moving documentary that explores the life of actor Anton Yelchin (Star Trek (2009), Green Room (2015), Thoroughbreds (2017)), from his birth in Russia to the champions of figure skating to his last films made. This is an engaging and respectful feature that aims to pay tribute to a person of outstanding acting ability who was taken too soon (died on 19 June 2016 when he was crashed between the brick wall and the fence when his car rolled back on him in his own parking space at home in Los Angeles). Through his own footages, as well as the interviews conducted with his parents, close friends and co-workers, we find out what kind of a person Anton really was – extremely devoted to his loving parents, loyal to his friends, kind, generous, curious, intellectual, funny, goofy and passionate about many aspects of life. He possessed great charisma and acting skills, having started acting at a very young age and then later acting alongside such stars as Anthony Hopkins, Robin Williams, Albert Finney, Jodie Foster and Willem Dafoe, to name just a few. It is safe to say that, given his talent, he was just on the brink of “breaking through” in his career and just needed that one very successful and big movie that will escalate his career much further, a movie that, sadly, will never now come. By recognising him as an absolute star now, we can at least pay tribute to this potential, to the person who was so passionate about acting and films (trying his hand at directing too!) and whose kind, curious and sparkling personality will always be remembered.
It is hard to fit a man’s life into one hour and thirty minutes, but Love, Antosha manages well and is very informative. We get a glimpse of everything there – from Anton’s first acting homework (as he attended a local acting group as a child) to his later exploration of music (guitar-playing), photography and film theory/directing. Anton just loved acting, films and cameras, and, being a hard-worker, always gave one hundred percent of himself to each and every role. He always had this cheerful side to him, and was also loved for his quick smile and jokes. Thus, few people knew that, in fact, he also battled a condition called cystic fibrosis, which causes shortness of breath. In this vein, the documentary also explores his health struggles, as well as his personal insecurities and Hollywood disillusionment. Both confident and humble at the same time, Anton had such a personality that everyone who worked with him was touched by him, by his sincerity and always the desire to think deeply about his roles and films. Hollywood should pride itself for having had this person of unique charm in their ranks, who had both a big talent and a big heart.
II. Tower (2016)
This animated documentary is based on a 2006 Texas Monthly article by Pamela Calloff – “96 Minutes” and is about the mass shooting that occurred at the premises of the University of Texas in Austin in 1966. In that shooting, orchestrated by Charles Whitman, a former Marine, 17 people overall lost their lives. The documentary follows the shooting from the perspectives of survivors, recreating the events minutely as they happened on that hot day in Texas. I cannot say I am a big fan of this documentary’s artistic approach of using rotoscoping to recreate images, but it definitely helped to dramatize important moments in the story and to show the full extent of the impact of the event on survivors. Paradoxically, the animated feature becomes even more “real” than a usual documentary would have achieved, because the persons that were involved have now aged and could again be “replicated”, as well as the immediacy of moments could be conveyed. It is precisely this immediacy that was so masterfully conveyed in the documentary, and, when watching, we really feel like we are alongside all these people (and put into their shoes) who try to bring the shooter down and who are living their worst fears being near the Tower on that day.
When the shooting of the innocent people started from the Tower, some people believed that the sound was merely firecrackers, and we then see how quickly the situation escalated. The centre of the documentary is a pregnant woman Claire Wilson, whose boyfriend was shot dead by the sniper as they walked from the campus. Claire fell down and remained on the hot concrete for 90 minutes alongside her dead boyfriend, fearing to move. This was the time before the now fast and coordinated armed response by the police, so we then see how ordinary people tried to help to bring the shooting to a stop by firing at the Tower and how media covered the event. The killer was eventually shot dead on the observation deck by police officers Houston McCoy and Ramiro Martinez, whose brave actions must be praised. However, I also liked that in this documentary other unlikely heroes were given the central stage, because heroism is not always just taking a gun and defending someone, but can also express itself by someone putting oneself in a harm’s way while trying to help someone. In that way, the centre of attention was also a young student Rita Starpattern, who came from her shelter, risking her life, and ran to lay alongside pregnant Claire. It is Rita who helped Claire stay conscious while they waited for the massacre to stop. The actions of such people as Allen Crum, a retired Air Force tail gunner, were also amazingly heroic, especially since Crum was merely a civilian at the time and was simply working peacefully in the building opposite the Tower. He ended up on the observation deck of the Tower helping to shoot the sniper down, and is one among a number of others whose bravery also consisted in trying to help the wounded and the dying.
It is true that some of the music used in the documentary is both needless and does not fit the tragic events. Also, towards the end, Tower loses some of its focus. However, it is still an insightful documentary that becomes a must-see one. For once, the focus here is not the shooter, but the people affected – those who died, those who helped to bring the shooter down, and those who helped others to deal with this tragic situation. These are the people whose names should be remembered, and not the name of the killer. There are monsters out there, but they are also people who would not think twice about sacrificing their lives to save and help others, and it is the memory of the latter that we should all be keeping alive.
III. 13th (2016)
This documentary, directed by Ava DuVernay (Selma (2014)), links the US mass imprisonment (the US has the largest number of persons imprisoned in the world), to slavery and the 13th Amendment which guaranteed everyone freedom in the country – everyone, except criminals. The documentary states that black people have always been arrested for minor crimes and it is in this way they have been exploited economically and kept in chains. The documentary is rather informative and thought-provoking, and shows clearly how black people are disproportionately overrepresented in American prisons, and how they have always been stereotyped and discriminated against, be it through direct segregation or through the law & order mentality.
There is no understanding of American culture or its politics without the issue of race being considered at the heart it, and the documentary quite clearly demonstrates how even the infamous “war on drugs” was used to keep black and Latino communities away and in chains. Black people have been overrepresented as delinquents in news and on TV in general, and, through the expert statements, we see how unfairness and discrimination against black people permeated all corners of American law. Perhaps the documentary is too long and overstates its message. Even though I wholly support all of its aims and agree with its arguments, especially on discrimination and racism (there are, indeed, too many discriminatory laws that lock up too many people for too many minor offences), even I have to admit that the documentary is too relentlessly points you in only one direction without considering some other elements, including the good that has been done by some to help alleviate the situation.