Thursday, February 28, 2008

Scared Sacred. And irritated to sleep. Out now, (****4/10).

Scared Sacred is a documentary that tries very hard. Too hard, in fact. And it has a laudable goal and premise. But then it tries too hard. That goal and premise is that the guy making the film, a guy with the delightfully clever moniker "Velcrow Ripper", wants to tour the "ground zeros" of the world, and find something "sacred" at each location. This is commendable, and could have made a very deep and moving film. He tours the World Trade Centre, of course, as well as the Khmer Rouge mine fields in Cambodia, Hiroshima, war-torn Afghanistan (pre- and post-9/11), the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal India, Bosnia, Israel and Palestine. In each place, he interviews local people who have managed to rise out of the crisis to do amazing things, or at the very least adopt a changed yet hopeful world view out of such horror. Again, this goal is commendable, it's laudable, it's even glorious when it works. And Velcrow Ripper should be congratulated for even making the attempt.

When this film works, it's magnificent. There is a man who, as a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge, planted land mines all over Cambodia. Now, as an adult, he scours the countryside for those very same land mines and de-activates them, one at a time, up to 100 each day. This is an incredibly compelling story, and an amazing story about this one man. The Afghani musician who was banned from performing or even listening to music by the Taliban, but who got around it by filling his house with songbirds, is also wonderful. And the spirit of the people in Bhopal as they create clinics and band together as a community to help those injured by Union Carbide is heartwarming. But the problem with the movie is that more often than not, it doesn't work. And the main reason is the film maker. Velcrow Ripper comes across as one of those new-age spiritualists who has read three books and begins to think that he is on the same spiritual plane as the Dalai Lama, or the resurrection of Gandhi. After each powerful interview, his voice appears, narrating, saying incredibly cheesy and painful new-age gobbledygook. It's not only intrusive, it's distracting and counter-productive.

He needs to realize that the story is not about him. It is not about his desire to become at one with nature, or his efforts to find the sacrosanct heart of a tragedy that happened to others. And it isn't about his personal musings, which may as well be Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy, they are so lame. No, this movie should be about the people he interviews, the tragedies that have affected humankind, and the people who have managed to rise above this heartache. But it becomes a movie about this one man and his quest for spiritual satisfaction, a quest that is punctuated by his inane dialogue and cheesy, obvious musings. Velcrow Ripper should be commended for making this film, but the next one should be edited and, if necessary narrated, by someone else.

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