|review: "Flag Wars"
||[Jan. 12th, 2004|01:06 am]
This is a documentary about gentrification in Columbus, Ohio, specifically, a trend in gay folks buying rundown houses in a historically black neighborhood that has quite a few spacious old Victorian houses and fixing them up and "changing the character of the neighborhood". Having done some time in Columbus, I thought I'd see it, as it is inexplicably playing in Seattle this week after already having been shown on PBS.
This film frustrated me because it had such promise and so much of it was poorly executed. Way too many shots of gospel singers in black churches. Not enough shots of shirtless sweaty men with power tools. Not enough interviews with the gay folks about the gentrification issues- much of the gay side of the story comes from the camera running at small dinner parties or walk-thrus with real estate agents. A side story about the Fred Phelps-style preacher who ripped down a pride flag that flew over the Ohio Statehouse is included for no apparent reason: I'm fairly sure this guy's hatred for gays exists outside of the gentrification issue, so it felt like it was merely included as filler or "discrimination is bad, M'kay?" reinforcement.
Also, there were factual issues that could have been easily researched that were ignored- Are property taxes going up in this neighborhood now that many of the houses look really, really nice after renovation? Are black folks who are being cited for code/zoning violations actually being tattled upon by the gays, or are the number of these citations about the same as they were before the influx of white folks? Are the gays fixing up and selling, or staying put in the neighborhood? How many rainbow flags are there in this neighborhood, exactly?
The filmmaker(s) doesn't seem to take sides and shows the negative of both groups: gay men at a dinner party ask "Why would you live here if you didn't want to renovate?", and a group of black men talk about how they don't want homosexuals teaching their kids; "Even if the best teacher in the district was gay, I'd pull my kids out of his class." The most sympathetic character in the film is the local judge who has to deal with hearing all the zoning/code violations and struggles to get people to take care of them rather than fining them or jailing them.
One woman in particular has several run-ins with the judge over junked cars and a non-running RV (with 8 year old expired plates) on her property, as well as lack of running water to some parts of the house; it's hard to feel a lot of sympathy for her as she's very stubborn, delusional about her abilities to take care of her house's problems, and possibly an alcoholic or mentally ill. She appears to have inherited the property from her parents, yet is unable to pay the back taxes on it with her monthly (subsidized?) income of $501, or care for it due to frequent hospitalizations (the nature of her health problems is never explicitly discussed in the film; supplemental info at the filmmakers web site says she has cirrhosis of the liver, which makes me think I was right in guessing she was an alcoholic). Yet she doesn't want to sell her house or accept any help from others.
I don't know if it was the "cinema verite" style or the editing, but I like my documentaries to be more explicit with the facts/ background of the issue I'm supposed to understand after watching the documentary. When I have to go to a filmmakers (or PBS's website) to fill in the blanks, I feel cheated.
And no, I didn't see anyone I knew in the film. The only building that was familiar was a driveby of the "it can't possibly be as ugly as I remember it.. oh, wait, it really is" Columbus Convention center.