Monday, June 26, 2006

This Way Out

Director Jill Burnett, Toronto, Canada, 32 minutes 2004
VHS 7736

Before the opening credits or titles screens are even presented, the audience is bombarded with a montage of shocking stock footage and disturbing newspaper clippings. The first sequence features men yelling in a foreign language, "Come on, you people! Kill kill kill kill the faggot." In another sequence, men are handcuffed together and led toward a certain doom as they try desperately to cover their faces. Another shot shows a young man beaten to the ground by a mob as cops casually tell the mob "that's enough." At the end of this montage is a soundless black and white image of a young woman with short hair and a sign that reads "CAN'T LIVE IN THE CLOSET."

The filmmaker then cuts to a black screen with the words "this way out" written in a simple white font. The title then appears to grow on the screen foreshadowing the expansion of this topic within the next 32 minutes and symbolizing the movement of these people out of these harsh situations.

"People say that Brazil is an open country, but I have a different idea," states the first subject of this documentary, a lesbian and former reporter from Brazil who recounts her story directly to the camera in segments throughout the documentary. She reveals her rise to fame and success as a closeted reporter in her native country, her rape by a chauvinist news director, her disownment by her family, and her move and acceptance in the United States. Her story ultimately ends with her riding off with her roommate on a motorcycle to city hall to receive her citizenship papers.

This documentary also features the stories of a gay man from Pakistan and a gay man from Kenya. Like the Brazilian woman, they explain how they came out and then escaped out of homophobic societies and found comfort in America. In their countries, they explain how gay men are prosecuted and disowned. The Kenyan man's story is further complicated by his father's profession as a minister.

During all of their stories, the filmmaker intermixes shots of them sitting and talking to the camera with sequences of them walking around San Francisco (separately). These shots feature the subjects (no names were used) avoiding eye contact with the camera, interacting with friends, and looking introspective. Their voiceovers plague the sequences with dialogue that often has nothing to do with the visual we are getting. It appears that these scenes were inserted to keep the documentary from being too stale or seeming like a mere interview. However, this is not effective. These sequences were obviously shot for this purpose alone, adds very little to the short film, and simply seems heavy-handed. Further, there are no recreation of events, so sometimes we are given shots of similar scenes. For example, as the Brazilian speaks of her motorcycle ride to city hall with her roommate we get the image of a person driving away from the camera on a motorcycle alone. Though this initially appears to be appropriate, the image we see is actually only one person on a bike and I am not even certain it is a woman. Thus the image is not truly "documenting" the actual event. It would have been better to actually witness a gay refugee going to city hall to get citizenship. However, this was probably not possible as it appears the filming of the interviews happened first and then the filmmaker found matching images.

This Way Out is important because it features many hot button issues that our society is currently addressing such as issues of identity, illegal aliens in the U.S., and "don't ask, don't tell" policies. This film not only brings up class issues of the documentary as a genre but also our class discussion of film as national identity. This film is a documentary in that it educates and captures real people's true life stories. It utilizes talking heads and stock footage to get at its core concerns. It affirms America as an open and gay-friendly nation as a whole, one that ironically has - at least in three instances - granted asylum to those in desperate need. This film appears to contradict what many people would feel America's policies are concerning gay rights and immigration. However, it is interesting that this film was funded through Toronto, therefore making it a Canadian film which ironically praises America. It also portrays the subject's native countries in a negative light. It is interesting that throughout the film we do get shots of these other countries, however they are always general and probably obtained indirectly.

The best part of this documentary are the stories themselves, they are gripping and eye-opening. However, as a short film, there is a lot left to be desired.

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