Not rated, mainly because it was a Fathom release. Maybe there's a rating somewhere out there, but I'm not seeing it on IMDb. Ah, well. While visually and audibly, there isn't much to object to, it is about a mass shooting. It takes something that we all heard about on the news and makes it far more real. We understand the upsetting nature of mass violence. I am not ready to show my kids this. But some day, they might have to watch something like Emanuel.
DIRECTOR: Brian Ivie
The long and short? It was very tempting to just not write this. If anything goes wrong while trying to publish this and I'd have to write it again --which has happened --I might just close shop. When I verified my new website, I lost all of my old readers. Yeah. It's also 10:40 at night and I really want to play some Red Dead Redemption 2. I also wrote a review of this for CNA that is in the ether right now, so writing about a movie for the second time when you don't feel like writing can be a challenge. But none of this is Emanuel's fault. I'm actually remarkably in awe of this movie. When my other review sees the light of day, I'll post it up here as well. But until then...
It's weird that mass shootings happen. I know that someone probably knows the history of mass shootings. I'm actually getting pretty disturbed by the notion that someone has probably devoted their entire life into becoming an expert on mass shootings. But from my perspective, it all really started at Columbine. Before 9/11, Columbine scared us more than anything else. How could kids pick up a gun and just cause massive casualties. We know how this cycle goes. In a way, we've all become experts on gun violence and mass shootings. It probably contributes to the fact that a lot of us are depressed. Again, I have no data in front of me. I think it would just depress me. We know that the second that someone gets shot, the period between the news breaking and the rallying cry behind the political agendas gets faster and faster. Do you want to know something really depressing? It took a long time into the movie before I remembered which mass shooting this one. The only reason I remembered is Dylan Roof. As sad as this is, Dylan Roof's goofy name is the only reason that I kind of remembered what happened. Does that make me a bad person? Maybe. But I think that it is a symptom that this stuff just keeps on happening. I know that just me reviewing a movie about a mass shooting is political. I claim to be mad at people being political and the very nature of me addressing that people get political is, in fact, political. I am human and, thus, I am part of the problem. I'm really treading over some of the same ground that I get to in my article. Perhaps this one is a bit more cynical because I have the ability to breathe out when it is in blog form. It might be a coincidence that I just watched Jon Stewart talking to Congress about 9/11 victims, but that guy gets reading the room. The movie starts off with Stewart's clip from The Daily Show. He had nothing to joke about. It's kind of come full circle with him still having nothing to joke about. The world is a crummy place. Brian Ivie (there, I got back to the movie) and his team behind Emanuel don't really aim for this tone. They acknowledge that the world has become a crummy place full of mass violence, but the movie doesn't really have much political to say behind shootings. I didn't know you could talk about violence and not get political, but I think that Emanuel might be the movie that gets closest to that goal. We tend to forget victims. I always, in my cynical cynical heart, roll my eyes when I see people posting about not glorifying the killer but stressing the victims. The sentiment is gorgeous and I'm a terrible person for not taking it seriously. But I also know how the world works. The killer always gets the lion's share of attention and to expect anything different is foolish.
But that's kind of why Emanuel makes sense as a documentary. This shooting took place in 2015. It's been a while, especially when it comes to documenting a mass shooting. The movie covers the events. I hate to say that sometimes I need a refresher when it comes to these kinds of things. But the movie keeps the stuff about Dylan Roof's background sandwiched in the middle. If you want people to tune out something weaker, stick it in the middle. There's something disturbed about me that I wanted to know more about him. The movie does a more than adequate job covering Roof's life. But the movie pivots the focus onto the victims of the shooting and, in particular, within the context of faith. One of the truly memorable things about the Emanuel AME shooting was that many of the parishioners immediately forgave Roof when they had the opportunity to confront him. This is the central theme of the film. I don't know if it is as out there as the movie really wants it to be. Considering that a lot of the film is focused on interviews with family members done in long cuts, the message of forgiveness is there, but it doesn't get the attention it deserves. Part of what is going on is that they have to work with the information they have. The movie really wants to push through a barrier and discuss the difficulties and truths about forgiveness. It reaches out to people who can't forgive Roof and his activities. The movie weaves in people from the Black Lives Matter movement, ones who can't really understand people's ability to forgive. There's a dialogue there that needs to happen. I really want that. I really want to go beyond the story about open forgiveness and look what it really means to forgive when it seems impossible. Getting those people into the same room would be a bit of a reality show when it comes to getting drama and I don't really want that. But Emanuel really gets there for the most part. It opens that door to discussion without really slam dunking it. The fact that many of the interviewees were people who forgave despite their pain is powerful. The fact that the movie didn't just say that forgiveness is as easy as making a choice is another. THese are people in real pain who needed to forgive Roof. To them, it was the right choice. But they also seemed like they needed to forgive him to purge something toxic out of their lives. I love it both from a religious and ethical perspective, but also from a therapeutic perspective as well.
There's something almost too simple about Emanuel. I saw an early cut of the movie. I can't tell you if the one I saw was the final draft that hit theaters. The movie started off with a disclaimer saying that there might have been more to the film before it hit cinemas. I kind of hope that's true because the movie really drags and shows its flaws at times. Ivie does something pretty risky with the way that he presents his information. Rather than using interviews by just showing the data he needs, he presents these interviews in almost the long form. This does a couple of things. In terms of getting to know the real heartbreak of the interviewees, A Plus! It does the job. We get to know every single interviewee who lost someone and the personal relationship that they have. We get to almost get to know the victim because their love ones get the time to really express their feelings. That was a choice that Ivie made. But it also really slows the movie down. These moments almost feel like the entire film is a rough cut because we tend to have a camera focused on one person. Sometimes, it'll cut to a second camera. But there's almost no editing. From an emotional perspective, there's something to be said about that. But also, it doesn't really provide a patchwork. Instead, it's like eating an entire entree and then eating another whole entree. I wanted to find parallels in stories. I wanted to see how complex of a web this story left on its victims and on society. I wanted to find different elements. The stories are all sad and all need to be heard. But the final result was...sad. That's it. That's the depth. When we get out of the interview stage of the film, there's an odd sense of relief that something else would actually happen. As part of this, we also have these odd cutaways. People's interviews often didn't have much visual to play with. Instead, we got rather generic images that didn't really match the tone or mood of what the interviewee was saying. That's hard to do, but I also think that this is a byproduct of the long form interview. It does a job, but that job doesn't always work.
Emanuel probably won't be seen by many. Maybe it will hit a Netflix or some other popular streaming service (by default...Hulu? Amazon Prime?) It's a really positive documentary despite the fact that it covers a bleak and morbid subject matter. Do I think it can be improved upon? Probably. Do I think it NEEDS to be improved upon? Not so much. The documentary does mostly what it sets out to do. Yeah, there's a discussion that needs to happen in relation to the ideas explored in this documentary. But that discussion may have pulled away from a documentary that really has laser sharp focus. They wanted to talk about victims' families and their relationship to faith and forgiveness. The movie does that. Go see it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.