For the general American public, the Flint, Michigan water crisis is over. The problem was identified, the public was outraged, the media coverage faded. But for those residents of Flint — a former industrial hub an hour north of Detroit — the catastrophe is far from finished: lawsuits are still ongoing, funds are being allocated, water lines are being replaced, and the drinking water for thousands of people is still poisonous. All of which is to avoid mentioning that the water crisis was the culmination of disaster in a once-prosperous city that has since faced severe hardship and mismanagement at the hands of government officials; Flint’s poverty rate is above 40 percent and the median household income is less than half of what it is in the rest of Michigan. The city, according to residents featured in Brian Schulz’s short documentary “For Flint,” has hit bottom, and the only place left to go is up.
Which is exactly what “For Flint” aims to do. It is a film that looks less to the past — less at the potentially crippling problems — and more at the future and the hope that residents have somehow managed to find. It is a film about resilience and the power of community and it plays counter to the media narrative that has so thoroughly dominated the zeitgeist: that Flint — like so many other cities — only matters when it’s in crisis.
And in that, “For Flint” is a success. Compact and streamlined, the short introduces its three principal characters and the tribulations they’ve endured in the first minutes. But it refuses to linger and it refuses to let these people — Valorie Horton, Ryan Gregory, Leon El-Alamin — be defined by their anguish. Instead, the film casts them for the leaders they have all become. Horton, a former machine mechanic on an assembly line, is a potter who runs art classes for children. And El-Alamin, a former drug dealer, has dedicated himself to empowering the young men in his community and curbing recidivism.
The faults of the 17-minute movie are hard to take grave issue with. “For Flint” is an overly sentimental film. The protagonists are cast in a heroic light. And the future of Flint is glimpsed with a propulsive score and a neglect for the obstacles that still remain. But is it so bad to take a moment for optimism? To see hope where a country has not? Can we fault Schulz for his refusal to condemn an entire city to the oblivion of hopelessness?
“For Flint” is a neat, glossy look at a prodigious problem that will continue to unspool for decades. But it is also a film of hope, of joy, and of the indelible nature of the human spirit. This is a city that won’t be defeated and a people that will not be forgotten. And “For Flint” is certainly well worth the watch, even if only to remember that crises don’t end when the cameras turn off. [B+] — GG
“Approaching A Breakthrough”
Clever and quick, the characters’ lips moving at the pace of their walk through Central Park, Noah Pritzker’s short “Approaching a Breakthrough” perhaps takes its title too seriously.
Norman Kaminsky (Kieran Culkin), a serial avoider, has recently returned home to New York after living in Los Angeles. Following a heated argument with his girlfriend (Mae Whitman, who really deserves to be in more), she walks away just as characters from his past turn up out of nowhere. These people include anyone from the therapists he left without paying, to his ex-girlfriend who he thought of as just his Mormon fling. These characters follow his trek around the park as he tries to explain away his inability to commit and his lack of follow through.
A harmless and entertaining short, it ultimately means very little with even Norman’s words feeling weightless. Perhaps there might’ve been more to it if a breakthrough had actually been made. Ten minutes isn’t so limiting that a character can’t have a change of heart by the end of it, especially with so many examples of his misdoings condoning his past actions to his face. [B-]
Written and directed by Richard Shepard, the melancholy “Tokyo Project” explores past, present and future love stories in the hub of a new city.
The film follows Sebastian (played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach whom most will know as Desi from “Girls”) on a business trip to Tokyo. While there he finds himself continually running into a mysterious woman, Claire (Elizabeth Moss, dominating 2017). As the two continue to explore the vibrant electricity of the city as well as one another, Sebastian begins to unearth the truth and elusive nature of love.
Running at about 30 minutes, there’s a lot that writer and director Shepard might’ve trimmed in order to keep the attention of the viewers. Instead, the main narrative intersects with unnecessary montage sequences. As Sebastian wanders throughout the city it’s hard not to want things to speed up so that Claire and Sebastian can have a real, meaningful interaction.
Moss is unsurprisingly engaging, even in such a brief and limited role, continuing to remind audiences of her immense talents and she and Bachrach share palpable chemistry. The quiet winner of the film, however, is cinematographer Giles Nuttgens who captures the beautiful surroundings in a manner that allows the audience to feel as fully immersed as the characters themselves. [B]