Friday, December 26, 2008

A HOLE IN A FENCE: fascinating view of "progress"

There are a million and one ways to make a movie, I suppose -- as many as there are individual movie-makers. One brilliant way is now on display from first-time filmmaker D.W. Young, who has trained his eye on A HOLE IN A FENCE and come up with something like an entire universe for us to consider. Part of the film's joy lies in its brevity, although I doubt Mr. Young planned his movie around this concept. In only 46 minutes (plus some extras you'll want to watch), you'll be forced to think hard about everything from community decay and gentrification to class differences, big box stores (specifically Ikea), architecture, art, graffiti, where ships go when they require dry land and how, if you needed to, you might best construct a temporary home. And this is just a part of it.

Young's film takes place in Red Hook, Brooklyn, which is not that far from where I live in Jackson Heights, Queens. I've never been to Red Hook, but after watching this short documentary, I feel as though it's as important as where I do live. That's because the subjects addressed by Young and his interviewees are happening all over the U.S. and the world and constitute a continuing problem/opportunity. One of the nice things about the movie is how it manages to include both success and failure, and thus sees progress as incremental, dependent on who is doing the observing, and full of very nearly as many negatives as positives. (In fact, maybe more negatives. And yet, somehow, we still seem to progress. Or did, until recently.)

In the large and interesting cast of characters you'll meet is one young man, Ben Uyeda, who begins the film as a student of architecture and by the end has his own business. Ben -- smart, energetic and positive -- is one guy I'd want on my side as Armageddon approaches. It's his temporary home that's constructed here in one of the film's most interesting sections. He later gives the abode to one of the area's homeless, who then loses it to "progress." What happens to the vacant lot we see through that hole in the fence is what is happening to our world. With plenty of intelligence, understanding and surprising subtlety (but without shouting or undue finger-wagging), Mr. Young gives this view focus -- via an aperture that just keeps widening the more you think about it. Obviously, anyone interested in documentary filmmaking will want to see A Hole in a Fence. Viewing should also be mandatory for every city planner in New York, the U.S. -- hell with it -- the world.

A Hole in a Fence, by the way, is yet another in the sterling array of documentaries and narrative films offered by First Run Features. Take a look at some of its many releases over the years, and if you have not seen them all, start working you way through. In the realm of catholic taste that is also of a very high order, this company is up there with the likes of Film Movement and only a very few other distributors.

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