Friday 14 November 2014

If Not Me (2014)

Director: Glen A Hines
Stars: Glen A Hines, Greta Skelly, Maya Patron and Deb Blume
This film was a submission to one of the IFP Phoenix film challenges in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 submissions.
Every IFP Phoenix challenge filmmaker wants to make movies or they wouldn't be IFP Phoenix challenge filmmakers. However what they want those movies to be varies just a little. Most want to get their short films in front of eyeballs and for some, the eyeballs of their fellow filmmakers at challenge screenings is enough. Some have a little ambition and want to get their work into the Phoenix Film Festival or another local event. Most would say that they have a serious drive to become a film professional and some may even be telling the truth to themselves. Watching the short films of Glen Hines, it feels like he's building the portfolio he wants to send to the Lifetime Channel so he can make uplifting TV movies until the day he dies. Eva's Light, which caught a lot of attention at the Beat the Clock Challenge last year, was strong in itself, but If Not Me, made for the Breakout Challenge, feels very much like a companion piece to play beside it and build a theme that I wouldn't be surprised to see extend over his next few films.

Both films are underpinned by piano based scores that are uplifting with touches of sadness, though this one later goes overboard with the addition of a song to hammer the sentimentality home. Both films are centred on elderly ladies, one real and one maybe only sourced from reality. Both films unfold through a set of images, often in flashback, to underpin a narrative; Eva's Light was narrated by the woman at the heart of the story while If Not Me is built from an interview about the equivalent woman, who has left us. It could be argued that one ends with death and the other begins with it, but both highlight the passage. Both films have carefully constructed forewords and afterwords; in fact, both start out with words before we ever see visuals, setting the scene before we see it. Both films then find a visual tie to the subject to ground our exploration of them; the photos/memories in Eva's Light and the shrine to remember the old homeless lady in If Not Me. Whether the films constitute a thematic pair or just a beginning is open.

What's most obviously different here is that Glen A Hines, who again co-wrote with Deb Blume and also produced and directed the film, puts himself prominently into it too. He's the businessman who talks to someone, perhaps a journalist, about Maxine, the homeless lady who lived on a bench in the park which he passed every day for a month before realising that she wasn't there any more, presumably murdered somewhere else or he'd have noticed the crime scene tape. Other people noticed sooner, which is why a shrine was put up on the bench for this businessman to notice. This does make a little sense. While most people only see what's there and it takes a Sherlock Holmes to notice the dog in the night time who isn't, the comment here is surely that homeless people are overlooked background in our minds and we often filter them out. Having done so, the businessman is surely as much shocked by what he filtered as by an actual murder. His interview feels drenched as much in guilt as in remembrance.

While If Not Me isn't as strong as Eva's Light, it's still a capable piece. Hines knows how to play with our emotions and he does it well, focusing on the positive in so doing rather than the negative. He's a decent face for the film, though of course it's Maxine herself who steals our attention, playing backgammon with herself on her bench, which she's adorned with the sort of things that made her happy (things that aren't remotely dirty enough). There's a neat use of time lapse photography, highlighting how the world moves too fast to notice little details like Maxine. The shots of her standing still while the world flows inexorably around her in a marketplace are especially potent and deserved much more running time. Greta Skelly is excellent as Maxine, though she never has the chance to speak. Hines provides her background and the film provides her voice. Where this loses out to Eva's Light is in how sentimental it gets, the overblown song an overdone crescendo to a much more subtle short film that deserved to play out on the piano.

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