I’m a a huge fan of Albert and David Maysles, and I’m a sucker for first person documentary work, especially when it is rooted in a genuine curiosity and employs a DIY approach on the part of the filmmaker. But, the subject has to be someone I want to know more about. Is their story compelling? I’ve seem some great examples in the films of Ross McElwee, Robb Moss, Doug Block, Alan Berliner… and terrific recent work such as “Tarnation,” “A Walk Into the Sea,” “Moving Midway,” and “Fear of Flying.” Some are more impressionistic or essay based, while others use a more immediate, raw style.
I was glad to seee Brian Brooks take a closer look at Celia Maysles‘ “Wild Blue Yonder” today, from IDFA. Its a compelling new personal doc that will lure viwers drawn by the Mayses family name but, as I noticed from numerous conversations about the film at IDFA over the weekend, it will probably also divide audiences. Is Celia too whiny? Too opportunistic? Is her mom manipulating the situation? Is Albert Maysles too dismissive of his niece? Should he have been so open with her on camera in the first place?
By making this movie, Celia Maysles is opening her family up to scrutiny and in agreeing to participate on camera, Albert Maysles is as well. Listening to Celia in Amsterdam the other day, and then watching the film on the plane home, I accept her genuine curiosity and passion to learn more about her own father. Meanwhile, talking with Albert Maysles yesterday afternoon, I was reminded that as with any family history, things can get very complicated and are not always black and white.
Experiencing a real family’s intimate stories on a screen can be therapeutic for an audience, but also make viewers uncomfortable. This film walks a fine line, but I think it works.