Category Archives: documentary

‘The Keepers’ a haunting series

Netflix’s “The Keepers” is a harrowing look into abuse, crime and corruption and how it still permeates to the present day.

Sister Cathy Cesnik was murdered in 1970. For years, people assumed it was simply a case of wrong place, wrong time, but her students at Archbishop Keough High School began coming forward with startling allegations: Father Joseph Maskell at the school was habitually molesting students.

Now, confronting an ever-escalating truth, the survivors Maskell’s abuse tackle the central question: Did Sister Cathy know about the abuse and is that the reason for her death?

The documentary series brilliantly captures the independent investigation of Sister Cathy’s former students as they look into the circumstances surrounding her murder. Told in interviews and partial recreations, the series is able to put the viewer right in the middle of the story, a discomforting space to be sure.

The series asks important questions about what the church knew in regards to the abuse and the potential coverup that transpired, not only with the church, but the government itself. The series has a very straightforward viewpoint so partiality may be somewhat of an issue, but it is hard to find justification for the issues the filmmakers present.

Covering a murder nearly fifty years old, a central tenet of the story is the idea of memory. Are the repressed memories of the survivors reliable? What of the memories of people who knew Sister Cathy? Are people knowingly lying or have their memories simply faded over time? It’s an interesting examination.

“The Keepers” is not an easy watch, but a fascinating one. Real-life murder investigations always appeal to the sleuth in all of us, but the added weight of history and the pain of abuse puts “The Keepers” a notch above most.

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‘Red Army’ an interesting documentary

Documentarian Gabe Polsky illuminates the world of Soviet hockey in his film Red Army that predominantly features defenseman Vyacheslav Fetisov, the captain of the CCCP team during the 1980s.

The film is not so much about the Soviet hockey team as much as it is about how that team came to represent the nation, its rise, its beliefs, and its eventual splintering. Highly detailed are the events of the Miracle on Ice in 1980, the 1984 and ’88 Olympics and the mass exodus of Soviet players to the NHL in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

As a history piece, the viewer gets a strong overview of Glasnost and Perestroika and what life was like for Soviet families during the upheaval. As a sports documentary, the viewer gets to see how the Soviet hockey culture was orchestrated, from Anatoli Tarasov’s innovative training techniques and revolutionary style to competitions against Western teams to the Soviets intense preparations (unable to live at home and training at heart rates of 220) to the dictatorial regime of coach Viktor Tikhonov.

Being mostly Fetisov’s story, the viewer comes to see the man as quirky, dedicated and stubborn. He is highly entertaining, especially his interactions with Polsky himself. Without his wit and humor, the film would not be nearly as enjoyable.

What is missing from the film however, is more a broad sense of the issues from different sources. Other than Fetisov, the interviews are based around Scotty Bowman, Alexei Kasatonov, Vladimir Krutov, Vladislav Tretiak and Vladimir Pozner among others, but contrasting points of view, say from other members of the KGB or Tikhonov (who declined to be interviewed), would have helped to provide a more well-rounded film. As it is, the viewer latches onto Fetisov and his interpretation of history, which may or not be entirely accurate (his personality certainly lends itself to exaggeration at the least). The result is also a fairly straightforward narrative without deep reflection.

Red Army is a funny, intriguing and informative documentary that may not break ground in terms of style or worldview, but manages to entertain the viewer and remind them of a time when the Cold War spread to every corner of society, including sports, and how that competition created the greatest hockey dynasty of all-time.

 

‘I Am Not Your Negro’ a sobering look into past and present race relations

Directed by Raoul Peck, “I Am Not Your Negro” examines the unfinished manuscript of James Baldwin’s Remember This House, a memoir on the author’s recollections of Civil Rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The film narrates the manuscript while examining the times of the Civil Rights protests and their comparisons to the present.

Samuel L. Jackson’s timber voice reading Baldwin’s memoir adds a rich layer to the narrative. The crosscutting of footage between Baldwin, the Civil Rights leaders, the portrayal of blacks in popular media (Sidney Poitier, black face) and the present day (Ferguson, police beatings, etc) creates an interwoven picture of race relations that make the viewer question how far the country has come.

Baldwin is very astute at being an outsider, being both black and gay, and his commentary on that and what it means is haunting. He delves into the psychosis of both black and white America, the fears and hopes of both and the seeming intractability of reconciling the two mindsets. Is he right? Have we truly achieved post-racial relations since Baldwin’s death? The film argues that the nation is still very much entrenched in racial divisions.

“I Am Not Your Negro” is a well-made documentary that white, black and all audiences can take in. In this era of Trumpism, it examines critical issues worthy of thought and discussion.