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Brian’s Tribeca 2010: Documentary Theme Squeeze

By Brian Whisenant
Special to Awards Daily

Yesterday I was sitting at the Village East Cinema waiting for what I might call Docuday 1. I had decided to cram 2 documentaries into a short span of time before going downstairs to work in the box office. I have seen a few things, but honestly hadn’t been compelled to write my first review. I needed an angle of some sort. The films I have chosen (other than a few guilty pleasures) already have some connection to the gold man, whether it be an Oscar winning director/producer or a general feeling I might have. And I didn’t want to write your basic run of the mill critique. SO…waiting for the first of two docs to start I was already trying to squeeze the two into an imaginary piece. Hopefully, “Freetime Machos” and “Sons of Perdition” would have some central theme that would combine the two perfectly. And then I remembered…I am a movie lover, first and foremost. I can’t try to make either one of these films something they aren’t. I can only enjoy (or not), let them fill the well, and then see what I have.

After watching both films, this is what I have.

First of all, I really loved both movies, but when everyone asked me what I thought I found myself answering in quite a peculiar way. “I really loved ‘Freetime Machos’ and ‘Sons of Perdition’ is really good. Probably something that could get a bit of Oscar attention with the right distribution. (Then I found myself trying to back peddle) But ‘Machos’ is REALLY good. I mean, it could totally win the audience award. I think. Even though I saw it at a press screening, so I couldn’t really gauge the audience’s reaction. Only mine…(awkward pause)…as one audience member.” You can imagine the blank stares I received. “So, yes, I liked them both.”

“Freetime Machos” follows a Finnish rugby team, but a pretty bad one. These guys (and one girl, Ana…at least for a short time.) play because they love the sport. But it is not, at least on the surface, their major priority in life. Even the coach shows up late a few times because being a father is his top priority. And that’s truly where the heart of the film lies. What does it mean, at least in Finland, to be a man? There is a fantastic voice over in the beginning of the film that says something along the lines of, men in Finland go to bed to either procreate or sleep.

(DING, DING, DING…parallel to “Sons of Perdition!” This is a film that follows the escape of mostly teen boys from a FLDS compound in Colorado City. If there is one thing the FLDS adults represented in “Perdition” want, I would think children would top the list.)

I immediately became interested and invested in these men. I have never really cared about rugby, and I can assure you the subject of “what makes a man” is not one I would google. However, by the end of the doc, I wanted to know more about each one of them. Homage must be paid to director Mika Ronkeinen. He must have been thrilled to find this amazing group of people. Luckily he hails from the same town as the team.

In terms of plot, I don’t want to spoil what happens, but I will tell you, the surprise has less to do with the outcome of the game and much more to do with what happens with this, dare I say, family of men off the field. (Pay close attention to a short scene between the to “leads” Matti and Mikko” and a female rugby player, where they discuss the difference between men and women. I think it sums up much of what the film meant to me.)

Before I get to “Perdition” I feel I have to talk a little about docs in general. I love all sorts of documentaries, but if you have read my blog, you know I get a bit a little obsessed about what makes a doc good. Is it just the material? And is it better if I don’t know anything about the subject? This past Oscar season really had me thinking a lot about that. I was a huge fan of “Which Way Home.” A film that had a great deal of resonance for me as a server in many a NYC restaurant. How many of my “back of staff” friends gone through that journey from Latin America. But then again, I was equally mesmerized with “Burma VJ.” How could I not know anything about the military dictator ship in the “closed nation” of Myanmar. Or at least not know more?

I could see “Sons of Perdition” fitting in to both of these categories, which is why I could see the film going quite far in terms of Oscar. As I mentioned in my original piece, this is a point of view we haven’t really seen before. We only really hear about the young women in these FLDS compounds, not the teen boys. And while the young women are definitely in the picture, it’s the young men we gravitate toward. It’s fascinating to hear them talk about how their fathers abused both their mothers and them. But when a song is played, sung by what seems like dozens of Warren Jeffs’s (the jailed Prophet whom we have all heard about in the news) daughters, the need for familiarity and blood family is so hauntingly present in the young men’s eyes.

These are the moments in “Perdition” that are incredibly intriguing. The other aspect that I found quite riveting was the “rescue” of a young sister of one of our male subjects. There is a gripping scene involving the girl, during which we see what it really takes to get out of the compound and the careful specificity that must be followed by the young women who seek refuge.

[note from Sasha: the lost boys concept is dealt with in HBO's Big Love, with the lead character Bill (Bill Paxton) playing one such lost boy.]

There are a few things that did bother me with the film. For one thing, I am not a fan of hearing the filmmakers ask the questions of the subjects. (Unless we are talking HBO’s The Comeback!) Sure, I would be naive to think that these boys aren’t prompted, but I am a bigger fan of the “slice of life” doc. Also, I would probably be happy if I never saw “night vision” in a film ever again.

That being said, I truly cared about these young men and women. What a life they have already lived. Hopefully they will be able to continue to grow and not be damaged by their experiences. The big difference between “Perdition” and “Machos?” Although I cared about the teenage boys, I could’ve watched even more about the Finnish rugby players. And that was a surprise.

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