SIFF Some SIFF Advice
posted by June 15 at 14:43 PMon
I was complaining to Annie about a SIFF movie I saw last weekend, Children of War, a documentary about the MS-13 gang. And she said: “Slog about it because it’s playing again this weekend!” [Harvard Exit, Saturday at 4pm].
Based on our reviews, I had circled a slew of movies at the beginning of the festival, including Children of War. The review mentioned Ronald Reagan and El Salvador, and so I was sucked into my teenage protest past and ran out to see the movie.
Gong! All context and no substance.
The context is that Ronald Reagan’s war in El Salvador was bad—and combined with our follow-up conservative deportation policy, the U.S. government created the MS-13 problem. That’s the context. And I believe it, I guess. But it’s hardly enough to carry a whole movie.
The only other thing we get is gang members, including the founders, talking about how they joined the gang to fit in and have a sense of community. What a stunning revelation! We also get some FBI guys saying we must stop this gang.
Problem is, the movie (scared to give any credence to the FBI POV, I guess) and content to linger in the analysis that the gang is merely a side effect of Reagan policies (and let’s be indignant about that), we don’t learn a damn thing about the gang.
Seriously. Not a thing. Do they run drugs? Do they run prostitution rings? Do they run extortion, protection, and blackmail rackets? What makes them a “gang.” What kind of documentary is this?
The movie does talk about the time some MS-13 members shot up a school bus of kids, but there’s absolutely no context on that.
If it was the filmmaker’s intention to make me feel sympathetic to these gang members and bitter about American policy, it would help to paint a richer picture—even if it’s unflattering to the gang—so, I could wrestle with the story myself. This movie told me what to think and then had a lot of gang members saying the same thing for two hours.
Unwittingly highlighting this lack of substance, the movie is divided into sections (a title card, “Origins,” for example, announces each section). Every time that happened, I’d think, “Cool, maybe this movie’s gonna start now.” But alas, a minute into every new chapter, I’d find myself asking, “How is this section any different from the preceding one?” The answer is: It wasn’t. More gang members talking about the need to fit in. And more narration about Ronald Reagan.