I had a career epiphany last year after watching Harold Crooks’ financial doc The Price We Pay: maybe there’s nothing wrong with certain types of movies, maybe I’m just not fit for them. As a critic, you try and watch a bit of everything, but if something doesn’t interest you, don’t try and fake it – respect the filmmaker and the audience they’re playing to and admit it’s not your cup of tea.
I received a bittersweet flashback after Nanfu Wang’s Hooligan Sparrow, a film that Wang risked her life for but I found tremendously dry and boring. Wang set her sights on southern China activist Ye Haiyan, otherwise known as Hooligan Sparrow, as a controversial story takes over the news. A principal has had sex with young students, but through a finicky loophole, the figure of authority finds a way to only receive minor reprecusions. Haiyan, who has protested cases of sexual abuse and deviancy, gets involved.
What ensues is quite scary: Wang, Hooligan Sparrow, and the rest of the team are targeted. Paranoia sets in, footage and wellbeing are threatened, and yet Wang refuses to turn her camera off.
But, alas, I was bored. The documentarian/activist has collected lots of footage to assemble a harrowing perspective, but she hasn’t found a pace for Hooligan Sparrow. Wang is shooting and thinking on the fly, but a concrete vision hasn’t come together afterwards during the doc’s initial conception or post-production. Mind you, the truth in the frames is meant to be the main focus in Hooligan Sparrow, but the medium itself has been ignored.
People who are intrigued with guerrilla filmmaking and passionate activism may embrace fragments of Hooligan Sparrow. I understand the gravity of these situations, and the amount of danger we see on screen. But if this is the only way activism can be conveyed to moviegoing audiences without going to mind-bending lengths (Exit Through the Gift Shop or Ukraine is Not a Brothel), I might stay home and read some blogs instead.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie