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Documenting Human Beingswho Can Dream: Jerry Rothwell and His Body of Work

It’s not easy to find a consistent style indocumentary as the one Jerry Rothwell presentsin his films. At least this can be said from whatwe can see on the outside. Some may pointout the similarities between his debut film,Deep Water (2006) and his recent work, Howto Change the World (2015). Despite the distanttime frame between both films, it is true that onecan detect a similar style. By having a narratorread the documentations left behind by thelate subjects, and adding inserts of interviewsfrom survivors as well as footages with thelate subjects present in the moving images,he draws all these elements into his world ofdocumentary. This format can be found in hislatest work, Sour Grapes (2016). On the otherhand, Heavy Load (2008), Donor Unknown (2010)and Town of Runners (2012) are the results ofyears of following and observing his subjects.Discrepancies are also noticeable as much assimilarities in these three films. For example,the presence of the filmmaker is prominent inHeavy Load. As the person behind the camera,we occasionally notice his shadow, and in onescene, he even reverses roles to get the subjectto shoot him on camera. But never again doeshe appear in his films. Instead of insisting onone particular thing, he seems to be a filmmakerwhodetermines the format of his film based onsubject matter and theme.

The foremost aspect I have discovered is the‘public-friendly’ nature of Rothwell’s films.

I hope this does not lead to any misunderstandingfor it does not mean his films lack artisticqualities or character. Moreover, it’s not someobscure generalization because I might betoo lazy to explain his body of work. Duringthe process of going through his films fromhis debut to his latest work, I realized howentertaining Rothwell’s films are. If the abilityto make me forget the pressures of writingand immerse myself into his films is not hisstrengths than what are? What is the use of themost well-intended documentaries if nobodywants to watch them? And to add a ratherfoolish question, “Why are Rothwell’s films alot of fun?,” the answer lies in their ‘genreoriented’nature. ‘Genre’ is a term rarely usedwhen referring to adocumentary. However, itisthis genre-orientation of Rothwell’s films thathelps one step closer to the core of the issue.At face value, Deep Water and How to Changethe World seem like a chronological revelationof historical facts. But when you look closer,you can tell how delicately and meticulously theimages and interviews are arranged, and as aresult, create a special rhythm to the film. Mostof the subject matters he uses are ones that youcan figure out the ending if you search throughthe Internet. Nevertheless, his films keep youon your toes until the very end as if you arewitnessing what’s happening right in front ofyour eyes.But it’s not like he’s always focusedon raising your heart rate. Heavy Load or DonorUnknown presents you with peaceful bliss as ifyou are setting out on a journey with the maincharacter. Rothwell’s films are documentariesthat never fall short of a well made drama.

Another aspect of Rothwell’s films is theconsistent theme. In each film, he movesbetween different subject matters, but whatconnects his body of work is ‘human dreams’.Apart from his genre-orientation, the charactersin his films embody the naked face. Some arepeople who passed away decades ago, whileothers areyoung people who have just set footin the real world. What they all share is a dreamthey have inside them. A head of family in histhirties single-handedly embarks on a worldtour on his yacht (Deep Water), a punk bandincluding members with disabilities play musicto enjoy the moment (Heavy Load), and a manwho donated his sperm years ago when hewas young liberates himself from an oppressivesystem to lead the liberal life of a bohemian(Donor Unknown). A teenage girl desperateto escape her given environment continuesrunning in order to become a long-distancerunner, and a male journalist is transformedinto an environmental activist (How to Changethe World). The important fact is, Rothwelldoes not document the very moment they fulfilltheir dreams. They mostly fail, and even havebad dreams as in Sour Grapes. What Rothwellrecords is the human being who dreams, notwhether their dreams come true or not. It’slike his films are telling us that humans mustcontinue dreaming.And through this process,they should find their own happiness. This iswhat makes me want to be a supporter of hisoptimism. (LEE Yong Cheol)

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