Monday, March 7, 2011

Night Will Catch Us All

Yesterday, during a delightfully rainy Sunday afternoon, we watched Night Catches Us, a powerful film about what happens to some Black Panthers when the '60's turn into the 1970's. What an amazing movie from a first time filmmaker.

As I watched, I tried to remember other movies or novels which deal with what happens when radicals and revolutionaries must deal with the aftermath of their movements. The ones that came to mind are Marge Piercy's Vida, one of my favorite of her books, and the recent documentary Weather Underground. Weather Underground is more closely related. Both Weather Underground and Night Catches Us use archival footage mixed with storytelling.

I could also see all sorts of ways that these movies could be used in a classroom. I would show them both and then ask students to discuss whether or not they prefer a documentary or a fictional story to explore the same territory. Both movies use music in interesting ways. Both movies offer all sorts of opportunities for research and using that research to inform their opinions about the movie.

But even if you don't teach, don't miss this movie. It's some of the most powerful acting I've seen in a long, long time. And the young girl character (she's almost 10, and don't you confuse her with a child!) is an amazing piece of work.

For those of you who grew up in the 1970's or who remember the decade, you'll be amazed at how the movie stays true to the time period--where did the director find all those period cars? For those of you who remember an inner city before gentrification took over, this movie might provoke nostalgia, despite the gritty portrayal. It reminded me of the inner city D.C. that I spent time travelling through in 1985, as I did my summer job as a social worker for Lutheran Social Services. I remember visiting a lot of similar houses and being amazed at the flowers and vegetables that people coaxed to grow in their little plot of land.

For those of you who have had to cope with life after your youthful ideals have come unravelled, this movie doesn't offer pat answers. For those of you still enjoying your youthful ideals, watch this movie as a cautionary tale.

It will be interesting to see writer-director Tanya Hamilton tackles next. She's an amazing talent, the kind of woman who gives me hope for the future.

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