Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 21st, 2023
As advertised in my curtain raiser last week, I attended a little bit of the inaugural DC/DOX festival in Washington, DC, catching three features and one short. Here are my brief thoughts on each. Enjoy!
The Body Politic (Gabriel Francis Paz Goodenough)
Baltimore has had it rough for a while, beginning in the 1980s with the misguided “war on drugs” and attendant slashing of funds to big cities that jumpstarted white and middle-class flight to the suburbs. Known over the past 30 years as a city with one of the highest (sometimes the absolute highest) homicide rates in the country, Baltimore has occasionally been cursed with politicians who have not always helped the problem, whether by arresting any Black man standing on a corner (thank you, Martin O’Malley) or by getting themselves convicted of crimes (thank you, Sheila Dixon and Catherine Pugh).
But there’s a new mayor in town, Brandon Scott, elected in 2020 on a promise to rethink policing. In his new documentary The Body Politic, director Gabriel Francis Paz Goodenough follows the young leader during this, his first term, as he confronts intractable problems and tries to design out-of-the box solutions. It’s not easy, but at least he’s trying. Aided by great, intimate cinematography courtesy of himself and John Benam (who also shot part of Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields), Goodenough delivers a raw look at how politics should work, warts and all.
Deciding Vote (Robert J. Lyons/Jeremy Workman)
Do you remember New York Assemblyman George Michaels? If not, you should, as a profile in moral courage if nothing else. In 1970, while an elected Democrat in a strongly conservative Catholic district, he switched his vote at the last minute in favor of the state’s proposed law allowing abortions, thereby paving the way for its passage and the adoption of similar legislation around the country (and, eventually, the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision). In their powerful 20-minute documentary, directors Robert J. Lyons and Jeremy Workman (Lily Topples the World) offer an inspiring profile of a man unafraid to confront blowback. As he stated in front of his colleagues, “What’s the use of getting elected, or re-elected, if you don’t stand for something.” Indeed.
I Like It Here (Ralph Arlyck)
In a deeply personal look at his own life and the Duchess County, New York, community in which he has long made home, the octogenarian director Ralph Arlyck (Following Sean) repurposes footage from his own work and the vast amount of home movies he has shot over the years. An obsessive chronicler of the minutest details of the most mundane activities, Arlyck has no shortage of material from which to draw. The marvel here is how he so carefully assembled it all into something of meaningful structure and enormous emotional resonance. From his young adulthood, to his marriage, to his children’s childhoods and then their children’s childhoods, Arlyck puts the entirety (or a semblance of it) of his history onscreen. In addition, he brings in multiple other narrative threads focused on friends and neighbors. By the end, you will very much like it there, too.
Maestra (Maggie Contreras)
Making her directorial debut, filmmaker Maggie Contreras creates a rousing portrait of five participants in the second La Maestra Competition in Paris, France, in 2022. Solely for women conductors, the event serves as a way to both showcase the wealth of talent among its competitors and to make up for the long tradition of gender exclusion in the profession. We meet Mélisse Brunet, Ustina Dubitsky, Tamara Dworetz, Anna Sułkowska-Migoń, and Zoe Zeniodi, exploring their hopes and dreams along the way. It’s a moving spectacle, since only one person can win (and it may not be anyone from the cinematically selected group). Watching people dear to us not make it can be heartbreaking, but by the end the movie proves a paean to the resilience and hard work of this vibrant collection of brilliant musicians. They all deserve a standing ovation.