Tribeca Film Festival 2017: ‘LA 92’ and ‘Gilbert’ are two documentaries worth experiencing
The documentary is quite possibly, the most important form of the motion picture.
The documentary is quite possibly, the most important form of the motion picture. They often grab us, introduce us to new subjects, and open up our minds to the many things in the world. This year, the Tribeca Film Festival had a smattering of such offerings, films that expose the truth on people, both good and bad, and inform on events which have been burned into the collective consciousness of society. Two of these are films that shouldn’t just be seen, but experienced; LA 92 and Gilbert both tell a pivotal story, and both are quite different. They are among the stronger entries this year, and are sure to leave an indelible impression.
Directed by Dan Lindsay & TJ Martin
This documentary about the Rodney King riots of 1992 is so vivid and so telling that it can almost pass for a Hollywood action narrative. Unfortunately, the events depicted in LA 92 actually did happen, making for a nightmarish and truly bleak chapter in American history. The film starts with Rodney King, an African-American man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. After a high speed car chase, King was confronted by a group of California Highway Patrol officers who soon began a brutal attack on him. When the officers were acquitted of the crime, all hell broke loose on the streets of South Central Los Angeles. Fires, looting, and fighting fueled by the police’s racial spark turned the California area into a legitimate war zone.
LA 92 showcases this terrible time in humanity’s history, where racism was at the forefront and injustice reigned supreme. The directing team of Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin (Undefeated) have taken a bevy of archival video footage and turned it into a robust collage. While the images are at times disturbing (like a man being pulled out of a truck and being brutally beaten), it is almost artistic in the way the pictures are pieced together. The editing here by Eli Desires is top notch, and excellently tells this sad chapter in the nation’s history. People unfamiliar with Rodney King and the riots that resulted after his beating should give this film a viewing, as the message is still strong. King said it best in a subsequent press conference: “Can’t we all just get along?” Sadly, 25 years later, racism still exists and lives continue to be lost as a result of it. Perhaps LA 92 will open viewers’ eyes and push society one step closer to eradicating racial bias and hatred forever.
Directed by Neil Berkeley
Switching gears a bit, Gilbert looks at a man whose life doesn’t get scrutinized all too often. That man is iconic standup comedian/actor Gilbert Gottfried, someone who has taken heat for his controversial comedy routines, and has made a name for himself with his annoying voice and raunchy sense of humor. Gilbert takes the man and shines a light on his life, from an awkward childhood to his humble beginnings as a young standup, all the way up to his success as the voice of Iago in 1992’s Aladdin, as well as his highly popular Aflac ad campaign. This documentary shows a tender and vulnerable side to Gottfried, who has gotten married and now fathers two young children. The intimate portrait is handled well, and we get a pleasant yet surprising view into Gottfried’s world, like his extensive collection of hotel toiletries he snags from rooms during his stints on the road.
Director Neil Berkeley has given us a truly special film in Gilbert. The interviews are simple, straightforward, and honest, and the editing and placement of images has a subtle beauty about it. Fellow peers in the comedy world (Jay Leno, Bill Burr, Jeff Ross, Whoopi Goldberg, Howie Mandel) weigh in, offering their opinions of Gottfried, amounting to a really great tribute. For three decades, the majority of people have only viewed Gottfried as the inappropriate comic with the irritating voice. His jokes on 9/11 and the Japanese tsunami have cast a negative light on the man, but Gilbert manages to somewhat dilute that unfortunate choice of material, letting audiences know that Gottfried is really just a regular guy, someone whose style of humor is not for all tastes, and proof that family and laughter go hand in hand. Gilbert is not only smart, but really refreshing, whether you’re a fan of Gottfried or not.
Another year, another great collection of quality documentaries. These films need to be seen, and their educational aspect is priceless. Filmmakers who delve into serious topics like the Rodney King riots or even about a famous comedian’s personal life are courageous in their mission to inform. The Tribeca Film Festival is the perfect venue for these films to be showcased, and above are just two examples of that cinematic power. It’s pretty simple: if you want to know more about a subject and are curious enough, then watch a documentary. They are truly windows to the world.