Documentary memoirs are getting out of hand. All too often these days what passes for nonfiction filmmaking is a training a tripod on one’s own face, and unburdening oneself with eighty minutes of babble about the motivations, misgivings, and frustrations of completing a film project. The ostensible subject is frequently the filmmaker’s parents—take Alan Berliner’s Nobody’s Business (1996), Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation (2003) and Doug Block’s 51 Birch Street (2006)—but the meta-me phenomenon isn’t limited to family portraits. “Here’s how my documentary made me feel” can be applied to anything, from love interests (Ross McElwee’s Sherman’s March) to zombies (Romero’s Diary of the Dead, the ironic zenith of the genre). Blow-by-blow oversharing seems to be the norm. The endorsement of kindergarten-level vanity on social networking sites (“25 Random Things About Me”) is to blame, as is the proven lucre in the Augusten Burroughs school of writing. The plummeting cost of making a film undoubtedly has something to do with it—today we face the awkward cultural position of having more storytellers than stories.
First-time filmmaker Morgan Dews bucks the narcissistic impulse in Must Read After My Death, and the result is a movie I’ll see again. The featured family’s story is chock-a-block with sexual warfare, insanity, tragedy, and yes, tortured navel-gazing. The point isn’t that people were less egotistical in the past, but rather that skeletons stayed put a while in their closets. In this film, Dews lets a dead woman speak, and doesn’t dilute her voice by rounding up a crew of speculators or adding first-person narration. (Posthumously published tell-alls are so much more captivating than memoirs of the living.) Click here to read the rest of Leah Churner’s review of Must Read After My Death.