The third day of the Full Frame 2018 was a cold, and rainy mess but the first film I attended, Morgan Neville’s WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR warmed me and the sold out crowd in Fletcher Hall right up.
I followed that with Hunter Baker and Jordan Fein’s THE BLESSING, about Lawrence, a Navajo coal miner, who is conflicted about working for Peabody Energy, because they are mining Black Mesa, a sacred mountain to his people. Lawrence is raising a teenage daughter named Caitlin, who has to keep it secret that she joined her school’s football team because her father would disapprove.
Lawrence struggles to stay spiritually strong after an accident on the job that fractured his vertebrae, and news that the company will close the mine in 2019. THE BLESSING is slowly paced, but that’s all the better to take in the beautiful cinematography, some of which was shot by Lawrence with a helmet-mounted camera.
Full Frame founder Nancy Buirski’s latest film, THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR, came next.
Buirdki, whose previous docs include 2011’s THE LOVING STORY (basis for the 2016 drama LIVING), and 2015’s BY SIDNEY LUMET, uses “race films” (films made by mostly black filmmakers with black casts for black audiences), vintage footage, home movies, and old photographs to tell the tragic story of Recy Taylor, a 24-year old African American woman who was raped by six white men in Abbeville, Alabama, in 1944.
Despite the South’s “culture of silence,” she went to the police, but no arrests were made. The story spread through the black press, and was reported to the NAACP, who sent Rosa Parks to Abbeville to investigate what happened. A trial was held in Montgomery but the all-white, all-male jury dismissed the case. A disturbing cycle of cover-ups, one-sided examinations, and dangerously dark nights follows, but the light that comes in the power of public push back provides hope.
A very, very different subject is tackled in Quinn Costello, Chris Metzler, and Jeff Springer’s RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE. Narrator Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Treme) relays the story that he calls “crazier than hell,” about nutria, that is, big swamp rats with web feet, and long orange teeth that are invading the Lousiana Coastal wetlands. We meet nutria hunters, nutria control workers, nutria meat makers, nutria pet owners, nutria fur wholesalers, and nutria fur-wearing Pageant contestants like Lousiana Fur Queen, Haleigh Willis: “You would never expect a rat to be elegant, yet here we are, and half of us wear it every single day.”
As the Lost Bayou Ramblers contribute an appropriately swampy score, the film amusingly visits with these earthy folks whose lives are profoundly affected by these 20-pound rodents, and we get a good glimpse into how nutria became a big part of Cajun culture. Downside is that, yeah, this movie which takes its title from a PRINCESS BRIDE reference, can be pretty gross at times. – if you don’t want to see nutria stripped and their tails being cut off, this might not be the doc for you.
Coming soon: Day Four of Full Frame 2018, which will feature write-ups of JAZZ PASSENGERS, 12TH AND CLAIRMONT, and I AM MISHA.