By Karina Longworth
I haven’t seen David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s first film, “Mardi Gras: Made in China,” but I’m impressed by the way the filmmakers, across second and third features “Kamp Katrina” and “Intimidad,” have begun to establish a voice not just through subject matter, but through a distinct visual style. There are few trademarks that you can now expect from a Sabin/Redmon production: eerie video, shot at night on a low shutter speed; an exceedingly intimate access to subject; and a mounting sense of dread as the realization hits that when the crisis inevitably comes down, the camera is going to put us right in the middle of the shit. In “Intimidad,” the crises seen on screen are mostly emotional and confined to a single family, but they’re spawned by the kind of larger crises of economic disparity and the hopelessness it engenders that propelled “Kamp Katrina.” The title literally translates to “Privacy”, and there’s a double connotation there: it’s a film about a couple’s struggle to maintain familial intimacy whilst battling a seemingly impossible economic system in the quest for private property.
Cecy and Camilo are 21 year-old parents of a two-year-old daughter, who they’re forced to leave with her grandmother in Santa Maria while they’re working factory jobs jut south of the US/Texas border. In the town where Cecy and Camilo work, horse-drawn wagons squeeze through streets between parked 70s Chevys, and running water and electricity are luxuries. Cecy and Camilo work so many hours that they barely see each other, and they go a year without being able to visit their daughter, but they’re still a long way off from saving the small amount of money that will subsidize their dream of buying a small plot of land on which they can build a home.
Sabin and Redmon followed Cecy and Camilo’s story for four years, for a time leaving cameras with their subjects, and that long-term building of trust shows in the finished product. At times, when Cecy and especially Camilo crumble under the stress of their situation, “Intimidad,” offers moments of genuine emotion that are miles removed from the score-saturated tear-jerking money shots that mark generic issue docs. The filmmakers have also added dreamy, small-guage film to their arsenal of visual tricks, which offers a respite from the intensity of the hyper-verite material shot on video.
By allowing elements of visual style to carry over from film to film, Redmon and Sabin allow us to understand that across wildly different locations and situations films, we’re watching the same story. This is a running narrative about the bottom rungs of world-wide class stratification, the poor people who have no personal stake in globalization, even as their labor supports it. And yet, their films never feel didactic, because they’re focused on the micro-politics of the personal. “Intimidad” is only about the economic and global issues that inform it insofar as those issues directly impact the emotional state of people. We’re always aware that a happy ending for Cecy and Camilio would not be a reflection of a changed world, but simply one family’s triumph over conditions and restraints that, for most of us, would seem insurmountable. In a marketplace where so many documentaries seem to lose focus in their determination to say it all and show too much, the personal stories that are forming Redmon and Sabin’s body of work seem to add up to more than the sum of their parts.