B.B. King – Life of Riley
Starting with an oddly chilling kind of overture from a really serious looking Bill Cosby, director Jon Brewer looks at the defining name in electric blues, Riley B. King, otherwise known by the initials he garnered as a Memphis DJ. There are plenty of testimonials from some extremely well known talking heads (Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Bono, John Mayer, Carlos Santana, John Mayall, and countless others) talking about King’s influence, and while they’re never boring anecdotes that move along swifter than the ominous 123 minute running time might suggest, its unsurprising that the best stuff comes directly from the source’s mouth. It’s well put together and it excels at making the audience realize everything that made King a force to be reckoned with in the music world. It’s brimming with the vitality and urgency of the musician it’s telling the story of, and that’s not an easy task to pull off.
Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington
Author Sebastian Junger takes the reigns of this fitting, but only surface level tribute to his sadly departed Restrepo co-director Tim Hetherington, who was killed in Misrata, Libya in 2011. Hetherington’s career as a professional photojournalist only lasted ten years, but the images he created led to numerous awards, accolades, and an Oscar nomination. Junger struggles at times to pull the elements of his colleague’s life together, and some of that might be a result of the now solo director seeming to still be having a hard time with the loss himself. The story of Hetherington as a fearless lenser constantly putting himself in danger for the sake of his art and a story is territory that has been explored on film before, and while the man’s work speaks for itself better than any film ever could, interviews with family and those closest to him add the personal edge the project ultimately needs to succeed. Also, footage from Hetherington’s last ill fated journey is hauntingly symbolic and foreboding to watch in hindsight.
I Am Breathing
One of the most frightening and agonizing experiences that can befall a human body is something that Neil Platt can only sit back and watch. Suffering from ALS (here referred to as MND with the film taking place in Scotland), he doesn’t know how much time he has left to tell his barely two year old son how much he loves him or what his father was like. Neil’s disease is particularly aggressive, and by the time McKinnon and Davie join him, he’s already lost the ability to use any of his limbs and his speech seems to be rapidly declining.
In an effort to get all of his final feelings and thoughts out, I Am Breathing stands more of an open letter from a father to his son. There’s a bit of advocacy for research thrown in, as well, but the film is at its best when Neil confronts his own sense of mortality head on with a sense of good humour. There’s a bit of padding here that could stand to be cut, but all the right beats for this sort of film are hit, and like many documentaries it’s impossible to talk about where it all ends up. It ends about as realistically as it can get thanks to McKinnon and Davie largely staying out of the family’s way and letting them interact naturally.
I am Breathing screens for only one showing on Friday, June 21st at 6:45pm in honour of National ALS Day, with a Skype Q&A with the directors and special guests. A portion of the proceeds from this screening will go to support ALS Canada.