From One Second to the Next by Werner Herzog

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From One Second to the Next by Werner Herzog

The moment I read about this new documentary short from Werner Herzog, I thought, “A public service announcement video to warn people to never text while driving? Really?” It seems like a small hair ball of a problem that should already be common sense. Having watched the short, I realized that’s precisely the problem, that texting while driving seems like a such a minor hiccup. It is not.

The half-hour short covers the story of four accidents that have caused by texting while driving. One case has a child that is paralyzed for life and is currently on life support, caused by an accident from a teenage girl who was distracted from texting. There were no skid marks. She never saw him. Another case involves a man who killed two Amish children. The driver is now perpetually left to questioning himself what was so important about his text that couldn’t wait. The other two cases was a family dealing with the monstrous medical bills from her mother’s accident and a family losing her father. What really struck me was the last man who caused the accident, who wasn’t able to recall the text message he sent after the accident happened. He couldn’t remember why it was important.

Herzog brings his brand of deep introspectiveness to the short, adding the much-needed seriousness this topic deserves. As the title suggests, life is connected by each second. It’s in-between each seconds we must throw caution, because everything can change within a second. The most disturbing part for me was, my initial reaction was exactly the type of behavior this short was trying to warn against. It is not a hairball. It is not something to handle. Reading a text is not better than sending a text. There are human lives at stake. Do not text and drive. You just do not do it.

Some statistics I found on texting while driving:

  • Texting while driving causes 1,600,000 accidents per year.
  • The minimal amount of time needed for a text is 5 seconds. If you are traveling at 88.5 km/hour (55 miles/hour), that would cover an entire football field without any attention paid to the road.
  • As of 2011, at least 23% auto collisions have involved cell phones. That amounts to 1.3 million car crashes.
  • 1 out of 5 drivers of all ages confess to surfing on the web while driving.
  • Text messaging is the longest eye-off-the-road time out of all the distracted driving  activities. An accident is 23 times more likely to happen if you are texting.

The documentary can be viewed here. The slogan to the AT&T campaign is “It can wait.”

Related Reviews

Into the Abyss by Werner Herzog

The Act of Killing by Joshua Oppenheimer

The Act of Killing by Joshua
Oppenheimer

A
documentary that challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders
to reenact their real-life mass-killings in whichever cinematic
genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and
lavish musical numbers.

By omitting the historical context
behind the 1965–1966 Indonesian killings and letting the
Indonesian death squad leaders tell their own story, watching
The Act of Killing evokes the
Nietschean idea of ‘gazing into the abyss’. That if one
were to ‘gaze long
into an abyss, the abyss also
gazes into you.’ The Act of
Killing
is a deep ocean of ideas, constantly
reflecting the human condition. Every scene was like a wave, with
an entirely different idea, crashing over the previous scene and
provoked a new thought in me. My thought train spiraled and
branched off into different directions.

At first, I thought about the brutality
of man. Then it went to how history is written by the
victor.

And then I
thought about the nature of cinema and storytelling. That in the
act of telling their own story, the death squad leaders became
conscious of their past actions through the task of having to
present it to an audience. That aesthetic distance, interestingly
enough, ends up being the distance these death squad leaders needed
to truly examine what they have done.

And then I arrived at the nature of how
extreme ideas in society prevail, despite of how illogical or
inhuman they may be. That logic is relative, anyone can easily
manipulate logic to justify any action. One can make anything sound
logical to do whatever they desired in a given moment.

And like that, the film kept on
giving infinitely and its themes continually deepened. The Werner
Herzog brand of the ‘ecstatic truth’ is at play here. Each
audience member will have their own individual experience of the
film’s ideas and themes, because the film allows it so. Director
Joseph Oppenheimer never puts these men on trial and instead of
burrows for something deeper to reflect humanity at its core. These
men, like anybody, are just human. And I cared and became invested
into their emotional journey through how Oppenheimer displays their
humanity, which was perplexing at points. I had to remind myself
that they were still mass murderers.

At a two and a half hour running time,
the film is too long. It’s hard to sit with such heavy material.
There is a 115-minute theatrical cut that exists, which is 45
minutes shorter than this director’s cut. Joshua Oppenheimer
seemingly wants to covers more ground than needed and less
definitely would have been more. I stuck with it alright because I
was fascinated by the film’s subjects, but it may test the patience
of general audiences. That said, The Act of
Killing
is a great story told through subjects
that I never ever want to meet in real life.
It is an unsettling and powerful
experience and is one of the best films of 2013, if not the most
important.

Bully by Lee Hirsch

Bully by Lee Hirsch

Bully follows the lives of five American students who face bullying on a daily basis.

This documentary deeply upset me. With all the problems we have in the world, it’s enraging that this problem exists to this degree.

I feel sorry for the child who took his own life over being bullied. It’s sad his voice was not heard when he was alive and that he had to take himself away to get everybody’s attention.

I am perversely happy and relieved for the child who decided to take action and scare her bullies by bringing a handgun onto a school bus and eventually had the criminal charges amended.

It broke my heart seeing one of the kids claiming he does not feel anything anymore about being strangled, punched, stabbed with pencils and verbally abused daily. Something failed in humanity here.

I was surprised there were no bus monitors on these school buses. When I was a kid, the schools never left it up to the bus driver as the sole adult on the bus, they assigned a teacher or a teacher’s assistant to be a bus monitor to watch the kids.

What can a teacher realistically do in that situation? It is battling an invisible social force. It is never just the bully that terrorizes you; it’s also the empty space around the victim that’s reinforced by other people doing nothing. The bullying behavior is a contagious hive-minded social act. Once you bear witness to somebody being humiliated, they feel like they can humiliate them too. That’s how it spreads.

It was unjust watching a teacher totally ignoring one of the kids and forcing him to shake hands with the bully who was just going to bully him again later. I agree that teachers can generally do more than the ones presented here. Those teachers clearly did not care about those students and were defending themselves on a political level. As the film shows, catching the bullying act when it happens doesn’t completely solve the problem; the schools just need to have open discussions with the students. There is a bit of that in the end, but it made me wonder if there are any schools in America that are more active on this issue.

The documentary is not complete. They could have interviewed the teachers’ side or other students or even the school bullies themselves. The director’s agenda was to enrage the audience as much as possible. It’s a one-sided argument, but it worked on me. I am enraged. I have a weak stomach for kids in pain. That said, I want to see a follow-up on these kids and the current situation in America. Did this documentary create any action? Maybe a follow-up film might be a good idea.

The MPAA rating dispute truly does not matter at all; Bully should be screened in schools and discussed in a classroom. It’s a relevant topic that exists parallel to the middle school and high school kids right now. What is the point of waiting for them to be age-appropriate to see it later in their first year in college? Hold the mirror up and disturb them now! Why wouldn’t you?

Kumaré by Vikram Gandhi

Kumaré by Vikram Ghandi

American filmmaker Vikram Gandhi transforms himself into Sri Kumaré, an enlightened guru from a fictional village in India, by adopting a fake Indian accent and growing out his hair and beard. Kumaré travels to Arizona to spread his made-up philosophy and gain sincere followers.

Kumaré documents a social experiment that was not well-planned and goes awry. Vikram Gandhi starts off by pretending to be a false prophet to make fun of religious people. But when he starts to gain sincere followers, he sees that these people have real-life problems and need hope and guidance, he starts to feel guilty. What was he expecting would happen?

The first half of the film is funny and disturbing in the way that it fulfills the entirety of Gandhi’s thesis. We laugh at these followers because we have a social distance from it. For the latter half of the film, it becomes uncomfortable as his followers start to become close with Sri Kumaré, telling him intimate details of their personal lives and asking him for advice. He fights with himself over how he should tell them. This is where the documentary lost me. I did not care one bit for Vikram. I was cringing for his followers and kept watching to see their reaction when the curtain was pulled before them. So in the end, do the ends justify the means? I personally do not think so. Other people may see it differently. To me, Vikram Gandhi becomes the person he set out to mock. The film celebrates its own mean-spiritedness at the end and it just left a bad taste in my mouth. I am not one to make fun of other people’s faith.

If there is anything positive to come out of Gandhi’s experiment, it’s that everybody has the potential to find peace within themselves, whether that’s religion, yoga, golf, knitting or gardening. People should believe in something that they can find happiness in, even if it’s not God.

But I already knew that before watching this film.

Into the Abyss by Werner Herzog

Into the Abyss by Werner Herzog

On October, 24 2001, Michael Perry and his friend, Jason Burkett, decided steal a Camaro from the the Montgomery home of Sandra Stotler. Perry entered the house through the garage. Perry shot Sandra Stotler with a shotgun and the two men dumped her body in Montgomery County’s Crater Lake.

The duo then returned to the gated community where Sandra Stotler lived and waited outside the locked gate until the dead woman’s son, Adam Stotler, and his friend, 18-year-old Jeremy Richardson arrived. Perry and Burkett lured the teens to a wooded area and killed Adam Stotler and Richardson. Perry and Burkett, driving the Isuzu Rodeo Adam Stotler had been using, went back to Sandra Stotler’s home and finally stole her Camaro. They kept the Camaro for no longer than 72 hours and were finally apprehended after a gun fight with the police. Perry received a death sentence and Burkett received a life sentence.

Into the Abyss is the new documentary film from Werner Herzog, it focuses on the two convicts and various people affected by the crime. In his documentaries, Herzog always seeks what he calls the “ecstatic truth”, his theory that storytellers should never look away from the truth. It’s not enough that we know that murder exists. You have to look at it face-to-face. Once you do this, you will find a whole well of deeper truth.

That was my experience watching Into the Abyss, on the surface it covers a very depressing subject. At the helm of any  lesser director it would probably be depressing. Instead, it cuts right through and takes you to different places emotionally beyond “hey dude, murder is depressing, so be depressed while you watch this”. It’s emotionally raw, the parts about the victim’s families dealing with the victim’s deaths are powerful stories. We see that it so much more harder to grieve when one’s death was over something so meaningless. Mostly we can say that these deaths are all made from wrong choices. Did these people have a choice? Some seemingly did and some claimed they did not. It would be so much easier to judge and encapsulate how we feel about a person’s actions if we did not look at the whole truth of his predicament.

There is humor at times, but it’s not there to break tension. It comes as part of the ecstatic truth. Herzog greets the father of Jason Burkett, Delbert Burkett, who is also in prison, “How are you?” The sits down and casually snaps a “I’m fine.” Herzog half-scoffs, “How fine (are you really)?” Delbert recounts how he testified for his son in court and pleaded to the judge not to execute Jason. He blames himself for not being there as a father and never gave his son a chance for a good life.

It’s even romantic at times, the wife of Jason Burkett speaks about how she fell in love with her husband and desires to bear his child, despite that they will not be together for 40 years until he makes parole. She holds a sonogram picture of the baby and that was an unnerving moment. As she held up the picture, I wondered if the child is another seed of criminality. That’s what I saw. I think other people will have different interpretations. The film is dense enough for it.

One of the most chilling moments for me was the interview with Fred Allen, the Captain of the Death House Team in Texas, where the prisoners are brought to be executed. He describes the procedure of taking the patient to be lethally injected and his struggle with keeping the job after lethally injecting 125 convicts. A notepad is shown noting the times of the procedure of Michael Perry’s execution: when he arrived, when he was strapped to the bed, when he was injected and when he passed. That struck me still. I did not have an emotion for that.

Herzog does not narrate as he usually does and I think that was a good aesthetic choice. He only conducts the interviews. Herzog’s own views are implied in the film (he is against the idea of capital punishment), but it’s not as loud of a statement as one would experience in a Michael Moore film. It is unlike Cave of Forgotten Dreams where he needed to answer, “Why the hell are we looking at these caves for 2 hours?”  There is no question of why we need to watch this and Werner Herzog takes a step back from telling us his personal views. The viewer is left to decide how they want to judge the actions Michael Perry and Jason Burkett. Herzog provides no answers, but asks all the right questions.

Why did these three people die for a car? Why did these two kids kill for a joyride? How does death affect a family? How do you live your life knowing that you will be executed next week? Is there any real purpose to executing Michael Perry? After all, it won’t bring them back. Does anyone, including the state, have any right to take a life? Just because the law says so, does that make it right?

At the end, It left me raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I thought about the absurdity and ironies of life. Into the Abyss reflected the human predicament and how as human beings we think we know everything, but we are not even close to understanding ourselves.

Senna by Asif Kapadia

Senna is a documentary film that depicts the life of Brazilian motor-racing champion, Ayrton Senna.

You do not need to know anything about Formula One racing or even have to be remotely interested in it to enjoy this film. The story provides you with the technical knowledge that you need to know. The most noteworthy thing is, Senna works on primal storytelling instincts. There’s a guy, he loves racing and is pretty talented at it. He wants to race with the best team. The best racer on the best team (Alain Prost AKA “The Professor”) does not want to be second. They are on the same team but they race for themselves. Tensions arise.

Senna and Prost’s rivalry seemed too dramatic to be real. The rivalry was akin to Maverick and Ice Man in Top Gun. It is unbelievable this all really happened. There is a writing credit in the film’s credits (by Manish Pandey) though I imagine that is more compiling the facts to tell the most dramatic order possible than rewriting facts.

Film is an amalgamation of all the arts (photography, music, theater, storytelling etc.), the only new art form to arise out of film is editing. The idea that putting two separate images next to each other can evoke a whole new independent meaning. Senna is a film composed mostly of archive footage and interviews and it is truly impressive the amount of emotion and drama that was conveyed through archive footage. The story was told with great flow. It’s great to know that the editing by Greger Salls and Chris King has been recognized at this year’s BAFTA awards.

Ayrton Senna himself is a fascinating subject. We see the passion and determination in his eyes and you cannot help but root for him. It was not about being the best. Senna speaks of racing as his way of spiritually connecting to God. Racing was simply his purpose.

The musical score by Antonio Pinto brings out Senna’s spirituality and subtly sets the story from Senna’s perspective. Essentially you are either hearing Senna’s feelings or “how we should feel about the situation”. The music at the finale was particularly impactful.

I do not know thing one about Formula One racing and honestly I still do not know very much having seen the film. But Senna took me into another world and it gripped me all the way through. By the end, it struck me still and raised all the hairs on my back ( even though I am Asian).

I could not recommend this more, do not let the fact that this is about racing stop you from seeing it. Give it a chance!

It is one of the best films of 2011.