‘Missing In Brooks County’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

There are documentaries that come along that give you more insight on a situation that the news just won’t give you. Over the years, people have noticed that some news stations, do not give you the full story. Instead, they give you, their version of the story. As we all know, one singular story, can have multiple perspectives, depending on who’s telling it. Those who dive into documentary filmmaking are seeking the truth and are asking all the right questions. Missing in Brooks County is one of the most honest, harrowing, and emotional pieces that dives into what actually happens at the United States/Mexico border.

Two families travel to Brooks County, Texas, to look for loved ones who went missing after crossing into the United States from Mexico. During their search, they meet vigilante ranchers, human smugglers, activists and Border Patrol agents. What Lisa Molomot and Jeff Bemiss did was bring the harsh reality to the forefront. They interviewed many people, in order for viewers to understand the gravity of the situation. The voiceovers and the actual phone calls really pull you into the stories from the missing individuals. It is incredibly devastating, not only to hear their voices, but to see the aftermath of what happens to these migrants.

The horrible feeling in their gut was felt. The guilt in celebrating a birthday, while their loved one is missing, was felt. It is a terrible, sunken feeling, that you can’t quite explain. There was a balance between visually showing viewers the unfortunate deaths at the border, and the emotions that were shared by their loved ones. At times the structure of the film didn’t quite work for me, but Bemiss and Molomot always reeled me back into the story because of the need to share the truth. That is why this documentary feature is something everyone should watch. Honest filmmaking, or even journalism, is hard to come by. These stories need to be told in the right way, and the right way, is showing every single angle, even if it is difficult to watch.

Missing in Brooks County slowly unravels and leaves the viewer in a state of shock. How can any of this be happening, every single day, right under their noses? That is the one question that will stay in your mind, while you’re watching this. It is hard to accept the state of the world, and why anything this horrible would even happen. You can either shut yourself away from it, or acknowledge the injustice, and try to use your voice for some good. Your heart will ache with the families who have lost their loved ones. The search for truth is something that should keep every journalist and documentary filmmaker going. Their voices are important and will help many people understand the true state of the world and their own country.

‘Whirlybird’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Journalists are always craving a new story, they live for the fast-paced environment, and most importantly they want to tell the truth. Some stories that are covered can definitely take a mental toll on journalists and there are some situations that can stay in their mind forever. Thanks to Zoey Tur, the breaking news aspect of journalism reached its peak in the late 80s, early 90s. Whirlybird explores the dynamic journey of a young couple, who revolutionized breaking news with their bold helicopter reporting. They both dive into action-packed live coverage of monumental moments in the history of L.A., including the 1992 riots and the O.J. Simpson Ford Bronco chase in 1994.

What was so fascinating to see was the behind-the-scenes footage from those massive stories. Everything Zoey and Marika had to go through to get the footage, in order to tell the honest version of that story. Because they were in the helicopter, getting an aerial view, they would see everything before other news crews. They created action news and everyone wanted in on it. The aerial view offered a wider lens of the situation, you could see mobs of people, you could see natural destruction for what it was, and that footage leaves an impression on you. There are raw, emotional moments, from Zoey and Marika that really make you feel for them as journalists.

Not only do we see the couple dive into their past with the archive footage, but we go on a separate emotional journey with them. The first half of this documentary sets up their relationship, and their character traits. Like most of us, none of us want to become our parents, and for Zoey, that was her main struggle during her early years. She did not want to become her father. Before her transition, her dad was the only paternal figure that really taught her what it was to be a man. It was a disjointed relationship, a difficult situation growing up, which had long-term effects on her.

The one thing that Whirlybird will teach you, is that no matter how much you distract yourself with your work, and repress your pain, or the person you truly are, everything will come out eventually. The issue there, is that you don’t know how it will reveal itself. Everyone can reflect on their past and realize their mistakes when handling certain situations. But in that moment, you’re a different person, and that is what pains your present self. Seeing what Zoey and Marika had to go through in the second-half of this film really struck a chord and made for an emotional ending.

‘Rebel Hearts’ Explores The Catholic Hierarchy And The Strength In Community

By: Amanda Guarragi

The one thing that can bring people together is faith. It can be faith in anything; in a sports team, in a higher being, or even faith in community. In 1960s Los Angeles, a trailblazing group of nuns, The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, bravely stood up to the patriarchy of the Catholic Church. They fought for equality, their livelihoods, and their own freedom against an all-powerful Cardinal, who sought to keep them in their place. Their bold acts of faith, defiance and activism turned the Church upside down. The sisters banned together and reshaped society in ways that continue to resonate today. Rebel Hearts brings together love, acceptance, and strength through the Immaculate Heart of Mary community, in order to inspire everyone, to be as open and understanding as the sisters.

On the surface, Rebel Hearts appears to challenge the Catholic Church and its ideologies when merging with modern ideas. Then once you dive into the stories of the sisters, individually, they all challenged the authority in different ways. Yes, it’s a documentary centered on community, but the community cannot flourish and rise up without the unique voices from each individual within it. This project began 20 years ago. Over time, writer/producer Shawnee Isaac-Smith assembled these interviews and gathered footage in order to tell this story. Director Pedro Kos said that he fell in love with this script, when Isaac-Smith approached him with it, “It was an arrow right through my heart, and I was just blown away by their tenacity, by their love, and by their forward-thinking.” Kos said that he has always been drawn to character driven pieces and that this is the same in many ways. He said it there was a fine line in creating the community as a character and also highlighting some of the sisters.

Courtesy of Anchor Entertainment

After watching these women go through this rollercoaster journey, as they desired to bring the church into modern life, they were always met with forceful opposition at every turn. The documentary shows the hierarchy in the Catholic Church and how they have always neglected new ideas in a changing world. As society changes, so should the system that “protects” it. The schools where the sisters were teaching became a safe haven for so many. The new methods of teaching from the sisters caused a stir because they were having such open and honest conversations. Even through the arts, there was freedom of expression in questioning how the system worked.

When asked about retelling their stories in this documentary, Rosa Manriquez and Lenore Downling shared two different perspectives. Manriquez was a student at the time, when all of this was happening. She adored her teachers and her school was the first one to close down because of the Cardinal. She said that retelling her story can sometimes be difficult because it’s like reliving a wound. Her school had a complete mixture of different ethnic groups, it was an all girls school, and it was a school in a lower income part of Los Angeles. It completely disrupted their lives. Manriquez learned a lot during that time but there is one thing she said that is her most valuable takeaway,

“We learned that institutions are going to value their existence over the lives of the people they say that they serve. It was hard and I’m extremely proud of my teachers. I also learned that you can walk through fire and survive.”

– Rosa Manriquez

When you are a child, you look up to authority figures, especially teachers because they are educating you on the way the world works. When the people in the system, that you are learning from, are doing the exact opposite of what you have been taught, it causes your own perception of the world to shatter. The way Rebel Hearts shows the difficult moments between the sisters and the Cardinal, is by animating certain conversations. Almost to give that childlike essence when presenting the hardships they went through. There was an innocence that was taken away from these children at a young age, they were forced to understand that the system does not work with them, but against them.

Courtesy of Anchor Entertainment

On the other hand, Lenore Downling had a different outlook on retelling her version of this story. She explained that it is a story about individuals who had great heart, great courage, and great hope. She was always inspired by those within the community, after hearing these reports while she was living in the mother house. Downling said those were wonderful times but healing had to take place afterwards, “It was a joy to be part of a group that was willing to stand for what we believed in and as the film shows, holding hands together and know that we were a community with heart.” Rebel Hearts may deal with some tough realizations but it is incredibly empowering and uplifting.

Director Pedro Kos also said that even though these stories all take place decades ago, the issues will always be relevant because society is still dealing with the repercussions of a broken system. No matter how many years pass, the issues that are within the structure of any institution, will always be there, but will be masked as something different. When asked what they would change about modern society, Kos, Manriquez and Downling all had such insightful things to say:

“I think it’s integral that we need to learn to be more open, and additive, and supportive of one another, and understanding. I think it really stems from love and empathy for one another and to meet people where they are and work together.”

– Director Pedro Kos

“We are loved and we will love in return and in doing that we have the courage to exorcise fear because fear is used so often to manipulate us and to enslave us. I would hope that is what we could do.”

– Rosa Manriquez

“To finally understand the universal declaration of human rights and that everybody has access to what belongs to them. That would be a huge world change, to have human rights honoured in our local neighbourhoods and in our nations in the world.”

– Lenore Downling

What audiences can learn from this documentary is that there is so much power in coming together for the greater good. One voice above the rest does work, but multiple voices, with different ideas, can create so much more against a flawed system. Rebel Hearts will open your eyes to a story about women who were being silenced, who had their creative freedom taken away and how deep the patriarchy goes. It does not matter which institution it is, as long as there are men in power, there will be people who will be silenced and have their loyalty tested.

Rebel Hearts is structured well because of the integration of interviews, old footage, newspaper clippings, and the addition of animated sequences to reimagine dark moments. It is in select theatres today and will be streaming globally on Discovery Plus, June 27th. After winning the hearts of many at Sundance, it’s finally time for their story to be heard. It is liberating, empowering, and will have you questioning the higher powers in any system by the end of it.

The Vice Short List: ‘The Showgirls Of Pakistan’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

All over the world, women are treated in different ways. Majority of Western culture may not know what goes on across the world and that is why documentaries such as, The Showgirls of Pakistan are necessary. The patriarchy rules in many forms, some countries are more strict than others, which can be damaging to female expression and growth. This documentary is structured as an alternate universe with three distinct stories. Director Saad Khan takes the viewer into the universe of three mujra dancers in Pakistan, as they dodge state censorship and violence, to vie for stardom.

Throughout the decades women have found strength in self-expression and working for themselves. They are able to set their own boundaries, which can still put them in some sort of danger. In this documentary, there are three women who have entered different worlds of theatre. In their cases, you are either forced into marriage, or you choose to lead a different life. The documentary depicts female agency through dance and theatre. Afreen, Uzma, and Reema, three dancers from Pakistan’s Punjab province, have plenty of fans but the majority of people in Pakistan, regard the way they earn a living, as disgraceful.

We see that these women are mentally affected by this ideology and how men are treating the performers. It was interesting to see the versatility these women had when speaking to men versus performing for them. They were all headstrong and outspoken during the behind-the-scenes interviews. Then when they are on-stage it is like that whole world disappears and they are free from these patriarchal restraints. These women have had to endure death threats and physical assault but managed to continue working in order to make a living for themselves.

The Showgirls of Pakistan is empowering, vibrant and incredibly bold with its direction. The lives of these women are shown in the most candid way possible and it is absolutely necessary to watch. The structure of the three stories are different in regards to how the women lead their lives but one thing remains the same, how men treat each of them. There are powerful moments throughout the film, especially when the score would accompany some difficult phone calls shared between the three women and the men they were associated with.

‘The Penny Black’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

We all love trying to figure out mysteries. They’re almost like separate puzzle pieces and you’re trying to assemble them to complete the journey. Whether the mystery is in a novel, on the news, or on-screen, it is a brain exercise without meaning to be. The Penny Black is a non-fiction investigative thriller that takes us on a journey with Will, the estranged son of a con-man, who agrees to safeguard a mysterious million-dollar stamp collection for his unknowable Russian neighbor. After the neighbor vanishes without a trace, Will searches for the collection’s true owner, confronting his fear and integrity head-on. But when some of the stamps suddenly disappear, the filmmakers are forced to reexamine Will’s capacity for honesty.

This documentary is structured pretty well because of the set-up at the beginning. There’s an introduction to Will, his past and this interesting story that he is about to tell us. There’s a very nice integration of home footage and Will in his home present day. Director Joe Saunders does a great job capturing Will’s mind, while he processes his answers for the camera and tells him what he wants to hear. It’s interesting to objectively watch Will go through all these motions, while trying to piece the puzzle together with him. The audience is just as confused as Will throughout this whole process. Normally, people don’t think of stamps as anything valuable, so to shed light on that side of it in this way was smart.

At first, the connection to his father was a bit disjointed but then as Saunders pushed in exploring Will’s past, it all clicked. Psychologically, the connection to this Russian man, trusting him with his stamp collection and sharing other valuable information was important to Will because his father never did that with him. In a way, he could be seen as a paternal figure for Will and that is why the attachment is there. The way this documentary unfolds, especially in regards to how Will’s mind and past is exposed made for such a good watch.

The Penny Black pulls the viewer into the story and Will’s world so effortlessly. The structure of this documentary and the laidback direction from Saunders allows the viewer to take the reigns in questioning everything about the feature. Towards the end of the documentary, the suspense of tracking this gentlemen down is definitely felt. The ending is powerful and the conversation had about honesty was interesting to include, considering everything that happened. Saunders also played with the camera as best he could, capturing important moments at different angles.