Here at the Sarasota Film Festival, I finally caught Darius Marder’s award-winning documentary, Loot, and then re-watched Ben Steinbauer’s acclaimed new documentary, Winnebago Man. Both films are quite good, with Loot even bordering on some profound meditations. Both documentaries also put a spotlight on elderly men looking back at their past and trying to find the space between letting go and holding on.
Loot is the story of two WWII veterans determined to locate “treasure” they buried during their tours of duty. One man has some jewelry stashed in an attic in Austria, while the other has some valuable samurai swords buried in the Philippines. A younger Utah native, Lance, coincidentally links up with both men in an effort to help them find the… loot. What could have played as a cheap pop confection about a treasure hunt, instead packs a wallop when it comes to commentary on generational divides and reconciling with one’s hard lifetime. Both men feel remorse about mistakes in the past, particularly about their dead sons (one committed suicide and one died from a drug overdose). These men are looking for something, but it may not be their desired treasure. The variations on this theme create a solemn tone. The film is dreamlike but suspenseful, and never afraid of a good laugh or a poignant reflection on cleaning out one’s closet. HBO will broadcast the film next month.
Ben Steinbauer’s Winnebago Man touches similar territory, but instead uses an artifact of the past that is not hidden, but very much public. The titular subject is Jack Rebney, a short-tempered and articulate spokesman caught off-guard during an promotional video some 25 years ago. His mistakes and tantrums on-camera have become YouTube candy, and Steinbauer’s film explores the impact this had on Rebney’s life. The man wants nothing to do with his viral online fame, but Steinbauer digs deeper into why Rebney relocated to the mountains of California to live as a hermit, and how this punchline of a moment affected his life. Both funny and touching, Winnebago Man, comments on many topics. The most potent, in my opinion, is the comment on people who have given up on a society that has not given up on them.