“His socialist smile”: Docs Ireland Review | Comments


Director: John Gianvito. WE. 2020. 93 minutes

The latest photo from documentary filmmaker and video essayist John Gianvito is further reflection on the themes that have occupied much of his career: protest, social injustice, radicalism. The subject of this sparse and stripped-down film is 19th-century activist, activist, speaker, and author Helen Keller. Although celebrated for finding and using a voice as a deaf and blind woman, what she chose to say with that voice – her beliefs were frank and uncompromising from the left – has at times been resented by mainstream American society. and brought it to the attention of J Edgar Hoover. His words – and Gianvito leaves them alone as on-screen texts, without visual or audio accompaniment – are immensely powerful and prescient. Whether this markedly minimal approach to transmitting them is the most effective approach is less certain.

Much of what Keller wrote and said has contemporary relevance

Previous topics Gianvito has addressed include the aftermath of the First Gulf War, with The crazy songs of Fernanda Hussein (2001) and a visual meditation inspired by Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” in the multi-award-winning film Profit margin and the whispering wind (2007). His films tend to find their natural place in the more adventurous fringes of the festival circuit, and His socialist smile is no exception – he has had a good string of festivals before and won the Douglas Edwards Experimental / Independent Film / Video Award, from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

Keller, who was born in 1880 in Alabama, lost her sight and hearing after illness at 19 months. At the age of seven, she began working with her teacher and lifelong companion, Anne Sullivan, who taught her language, reading and writing, thus opening the doors to the voracious quest for knowledge of Keller. This appetite for learning and her capacity for empathy led Keller to conclude that, although she was physically unable to see, it was American society at large that was blind to the injustices that kept wealth in its hands. of a few and left the workers in the hands of the privileged.

Her activism and the range of topics she has spoken and written about began with the relatively narrow focus of advocating for people with disabilities, raising awareness of the social causes of blindness (she claimed the US government has been “slow – Dishonorable slowness – to protect workers ”). But as she consumed writings such as “New Worlds For Old” by HG Wells and dense texts on economic theory, her reach and authority of her voice expanded. Regarding the Communist Manifesto, she said: “If it is not imposed as a tyranny, it is one of the most beautiful literary works ever written. Much of what she has written and said – her lectures have been met with enthusiasm – has contemporary relevance. She warned that “the unspeakable political interpreters of white supremacy … bode ill for America’s future” and instead hit the nail on the head with her assessment of the ruling classes, “They tell us, like so many. children, may our security lie in voting for them. They throw at us the crumbs of concessions to make us believe that they are working in our best interests.

Ideas have a solidity that makes them enduring. But their performance, on a black screen, supported by a narration by the poet Carolyn Forché and some tangential images of the natural world, is far from convincing. Two devastating fires destroyed much of Keller’s archives, so there are few photographs or footage available for Gianvito. But perhaps a mind as brilliant as Keller’s could have benefited from a more formally daring showcase.

Production company: Traveling Light, Just Films

International sales: Traveling Light, [email protected]

Producer: John Gianvito

Photography: John Gianvito

Publisher: John Gianvito, Eric P. Gulliver

Music: Martin Marks

Main actors: Carolyn Forché, Noam Chomsky


About Monty S. Maynard

Check Also

Wheatus Documentary: The Edinburgh filmmaker talks about his experience filming Wheatus: You Might Die

An Edinburgh filmmaker, who worked on a documentary about Wheatus, the American band best known …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.