Hot Docs 2004 - UPDATE #5
Directed by Howard Goldberg
Liberal, Kansas is a typical small American town, with one pivotal difference: The Wizard of Oz's Dorothy just happens to have grown up there (no, Dorothy wasn't a real person; the folks in charge smartly realize that such a proclamation can turn their sleepy little burg into a tourist destination). Teenaged girls in Liberal are able to work as tour guides in Dorothy's childhood home, shuffling day-trippers through her famous bedroom and along that infamous yellow brick road. Being Dorothy introduces us to several of these girls, and their similarities to L. Frank Baum's heroine are soon all-too-apparent. The majority of them suffer from that same sort of wanderlust that afflicted Dorothy, which isn't terribly surprising given the limitations of living in such a place. The film is most effective when it focuses on the various Dorothys, and allows them to reveal intimate details of their lives. This is particularly true in sequences dealing with Valerie, a shy girl that uses the persona of Dorothy to come out of her shell. But director Howard Goldberg, undoubtedly a talented filmmaker, feels compelled to imbue the movie with a more cinematic quality, leading to obviously staged moments that are more distracting than anything else (this is especially true of his bizarre obsession with having the girls spin around while dressed as Dorothy). Still, Being Dorothy does contain enough insights into the rigors of life within a small town to warrant a recommendation.
Directed by Didier Nion
If the Dardenne brothers were ever to make a documentary, it would undoubtedly resemble Seventeen. With its jittery camerawork and complete absence of a plot, Didier Nion's Seventeen follows a young man named Jean-Benoît Durand through an undetermined amount of time in his fairly dull existence. Durand's working as an apprentice mechanic, a job he doesn't seem all that thrilled with but attempts to make the most of. His girlfriend is incredibly patient, sticking with him through his childish tantrums and short temper. Nion doesn't seem to mind that Durand just isn't an interesting person, alternating between interminable shots of Durand staring off into space and reflecting on the various choices he's made in life. While there's no denying that Nion's done a superb job of creating a documentary that feels like a fictional film, it's just not interesting. Perhaps we're supposed to be rooting for Durand's success in either his relationship or his work, but he never becomes a figure that we have any emotions invested in. As a result, it's impossible to care about anything Durand does - a problem that only gets worse as the movie progresses, as Nion progressively spends more and more time on Durand's ruminations.