A Year in Shorts Day 245: "Facing Fear"
Content Warning- Today's post contains discussions on homophobia and hate crimes.
Movies about bigots befriending minorities and then becoming not hateful as a result are a dime a dozen. They’re typically pretty obvious feel good attempts at Oscar Bait, and some succeed. Some even manage to win Best Picture! These films are pretty easy to snark at, but what do you do when one such film is not only based on a true story, but it’s also a documentary? That’s a question we must face as we watch the 2013 short, Facing Fear.
Ok, maybe it's not entirely fair to be comparing this short to films like Green Book; forgive me, I can't resist a good bit of easy sass. Jason Cohen's documentary tells the story of Matthew Boger and Tim Zaal, two unlikely friends connected by one horrific act of violence. The film delves into their history, showing how Tim Zaal fell into a gang of Neo-Nazis while Matthew Boger wound up homeless in Los Angeles after getting thrown out of his house by his mother. Their paths collide one fateful night when Zaal and his gang viciously beat Boger and leave him for dead. The film picks up twenty-five years later when the two meet again at the Museum of Tolerance and realize their mutual connection. I won't say what happens next (the film is available for free on Tubi), but it's certainly a very interesting story.
Honestly, the story is probably interesting enough to sustain a feature; the film covers on a lot of important issues, but doesn't really have the time to delve into them. Of course, wishing a short film were longer isn't really much of a complaint. But even with that in mind, one can't help but feel frustrated with the short shrift a lot of the short's various elements are given. The story of how Zaal slowly entered the world of white supremacy could have been an interesting documentary in its own right, not to mention the story of how he decided to get out. And Boger's story feels even more incomplete. There's a great deal left unexplored, as the film only has time to scratch the surface.
Still, while Facing Fear may not be the deepest dive into the topics it tackles, at least it's not superficial or overly naïve. The film does not shy away from the difficult and uncomfortable side of things, and that's worth a lot. Maybe it gets a little sentimental at times (especially with the music), but I think it's justified. I mean, if two people telling their own story can't get a little sentimental at times, who can? It's certainly not as bad as it could get, after all; in an alternate universe there's some horrible Oscar bait drama I don't know. Documentary shorts like this are always a little hard to review, I find. It doesn't do anything poorly, but it doesn't do anything spectacularly. Still, tells an interesting story in a way that's straightforward and competently done, and delivers an important message. And I guess that's enough.
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