Wednesday, 17 June 2015

BEST OF ENEMIES / HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD - Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - 2 Must-See Documentaries @ the 2015 Niagara Integrated Film Festival

Best of Enemies (2014)
Dir. Morgan Neville, Robert Gordon
Starring: Gore Vidal, William F. Buckley Jr.

Review By Greg Klymkiw

This is a documentary that brilliantly fulfills some mighty pre-requisites: Important subject matter that needed, after so many decades have passed, to be presented in as blisteringly entertaining and deeply incisive a manner as possible. As such, Best of Enemies is a great story and superb filmmaking.

In 1968, America changed forever - in many ways. First of all, during the Republican and Democratic conventions, the country was in post-JFK-assassination ennui, the height of Vietnam, civil rights clashes, endless protests and yearning for some kind of defining change. Ever more jaw-dropping was that Television News at the network level was still infused with passion, journalistic excellence and thorough, balanced coverage. These days, it's little more than exploitative sound bites and out and out propaganda.

Of the three networks, ABC's national news was strictly a cellar-dweller affair with such abysmal ratings, it would not have been an exaggeration to count its viewers, sardonically of course, on two hands. ABC knew something had to turn this around. Eschewing traditional coverage of the conventions, ABC instead presented a live debate/commentary on these events by none other than the ultra-conservative William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal, the left-leaning best selling writer of controversial works like Myra Breckenridge.

This format of vicious jugular-slashing debate had never before been used in so effective a fashion. In fact, it was so unique, so compelling and so much a reflection of America's split-down-the-middle sensibilities, that ABC's ratings skyrocketed to epic levels. Using actual footage with the debates and supplementing it with contemporary interviews, a bottomless pit of additional archival footage, contemporary interviews with those still alive to offer vivid, candid reflections and off-screen readings of Buckley and Vidal's prose by John Lithgow and Kelsey Grammar, directors Neville and Gordon have us on the edge of our seats.

It's razzle-dazzle filmmaking at its best. Most telling, in spite of some rather shocking LIVE (and then, unheard of) name-calling twixt the two pundits, is that America sat down and absorbed, in the millions, two dynamic, intelligent men, duking it out with equally intelligent discourse. What Vidal and Buckley achieved set the trend for TV broadcasting to follow, so much so, that today, point-counter-point duels are a matter of course. The difference between then and now, however, is the high degree of intellectual political discourse between the two men - a far cry from the cacophonous scream-fests so prevalent on television ever since.

We get biographical details on both men in order to set the stage for the astonishing footage, allowing us the opportunity to know them as intimately as possible within the context of such a film and reflecting all the events of interest in America AS THEY HAPPENED. One of the more chilling sequences involves Mayor Robert Daley of Chicago turning his city into a veritable police state during the Democratic Convention (captured at the time, brilliantly and shockingly by cinematographer Haskell Wexler with his feature length directorial debut Medium Cool).

As thrilling as the film is, we also experience a considerable degree of melancholy. By witnessing such intelligent and exciting debates in raw, unexpurgated form, there's a sinking feeling that overwhelms us as we realize how this landmark event eventually denigrated into what we now know today.

The experience of seeing this film is the best anyone's going to have to actually experiencing this event as it happened. This is great documentary filmmaking as it should really be - namely, great filmmaking period.


Best of Enemies plays at the 2015 Niagara Integrated Film Festival. For tickets, showtimes, dates and venues, visit the NIFF website by clicking HERE.

How To Change The World (2015)
Dir. Jerry Rothwell

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"If we wait for the meek to inherit the earth, there won't be anything left to inherit" - Robert Hunter

Robert (Bob) Hunter was many things. Mostly, I just always thought he was cool. And well, you'd kind of have to be that to have accomplished so much in so short a time (he died of cancer at age 63). A committed veteran journalist, broadcaster and the founder of Greenpeace, Hunter is clearly the hero of this film, but director Jerry Rothwell leaves no stone unturned to tell as much of this extraordinary story as possible. Rothwell poured over hundreds of 16mm rolls of film that had been canned and unopened since the 1970s. Seeing, pretty much before his very eyes, the visual history of the Greenpeace organization, the filmmaker consulted with Hunter's colleagues and foes, conducted fresh interviews with all of them, then blended his Herculean research to expertly select and edit footage from the Greenpeace Archives. The result is a documentary which paints a portrait of environmental activism which comes across as thrilling as Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin "Master and Commander" high-seas swashbucklers. FULL REVIEW from Hot Docs 2015 HERE.


How To Change The World plays at the 2015 Niagara Integrated Film Festival. For tickets, showtimes, dates and venues, visit the NIFF website by clicking HERE.