Saturday 24 March 2018

BFI Flare 2018: Documentaries

Love, Scott
Dir: Laura Marie Wayne
After a night out in a bar in Nova Scotia, musician Scott Jones was attacked. He was stabbed in a homophobic attack which left him paralysed from the waist down. The courts didn't recognise the attack as a hate crime, sentencing Scott's attacker to 10 years for attempted murder. This documentary, by a college friend of Scott's, picks up with him about a year after the attack, as he rebuilds and tries to find something useful to do in what he call his new normal.

Laura Marie Wayne's film is a tender portrait of a friend. She has access to some archive footage from Scott's childhood, which she pairs with more shot on film material to give an impressionistic feel of the past, like fragments of grainy memories that flash through the film periodically. The first present tense material takes place five days after Scott's attack, when she visits him in the hospital, and while it comes midway through the film, after we have spent plenty of time with Scott as he is now, it feels like the bridge between the past and present tenses. What's striking about this footage is how little of it is of Scott. There are snatches of hospital corridors, the floor, the walls. It's almost as if Wayne can't bear, at least in the first moments, to see her friend in pain, to see him helpless.

Of course, Scott isn't helpless. Not only is he facing up to the challenges of the aftermath of his attack, he's trying to use his voice in helpful, hopeful, ways. He's founded the Don't Be Afraid campaign, named for what he said in hospital when asked what he'd want people to know in the wake of what happened to him. Through that group he leads a choir and does public speaking. We see all of this in the film, from small events like a choir rehearsal to much bigger moments like a speaking event that, in one of the film's most moving moments, becomes the first time Scott stands in public since the attack. Scott seems to have perspective on what happened, but we also see, that that's a process that continues for him, especially in relation to the perpetrator. In another of the film's wrenching moments, Scott reads a letter he's written, asking his attacker - Shane - if they can meet.

This is a moving and inspiring story, told articulately by Scott, his sister Sherise and by Wayne's camera. It's also a beautifully shot film, full of evocative images, whether it's the grainy moments of the past or the sequence of Scott being carried on a friend's back, down to a quiet piece of countryside he thought he'd not be able to access again after his paralysis. It's well worth seeing on a big screen. 

The 34th
Dir: Linda Cullen, Vanessa Gildea
In some ways, it surprises me that the batlle for equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples is one that is so recent - or, in many countries, current. It seems like such an obvious imbalance, and so clear that there would be no demonstrable effect on anyone other than the gay and lesbian couples wanting to be married, that it feels like an argument that should have been had and won generations ago. But that's a view from outside the LGBT communities, from a liberal family.

The 34th covers the battle for full marriage equality in the Republic of Ireland, via the 34th amendment to the country's constitution, beginning with the court case brought by Katharine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, who married in Canada in 2003, to have their marriage recognised by the Government and the tax office and ending with the 2015 referendum on the constitutional amendment.

The film itself is very straightforward: a series of talking heads interviews with the key people in the marriage equality movement, mixed with well chosen archive footage, tracking the 12 year journey to victory in well told and often deeply personal detail. It's an important document of a movement that achieved seismic social change in a country where religion remains so powerful that it seemed very possible that that change would never be allowed to take place.

The 34th is interesting, it's emotional and it has a story worth telling. The last twenty minutes in particular, from a speech by two adult children of gay couples at the constitutional convention to the celebrations after the referendum was won, put a lump in my throat. What it's not is cinema. Produced by an Irish television company, the film never really transcends its small screen feel. The visuals are funtional; they tell the story, but aren't especially striking in and of themselves.  That's not entirely a bad thing, this film will likely land on the BBC's Storyville series, or some similar strand, and it will be well worth watching there, but I'm not sure you need to rush to a cinema for this one. 

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