Published Aug 01, 2013For the most part, documentary filmmaking can be one of the least difficult forms of filmmaking. Save the handful of efforts that demonstrate ambiguity and layered narration, infused with metaphor and self-consciousness, playing on the notion of presenting "reality," they're mostly formulaic, talking head pieces with animations, on-screen titles and pointed arguments arising at key moments to ensure the audience is in agreement with the filmmaker's thesis and subconscious projection of morally vain identity.
Agreement with the subject often interferes with a viewer's ability to form a discerning opinion about the work they've just consumed. Atrociously made enviro-docs are frequently championed by those that identify with the "green" image associated with the work, being too invested in the content to notice that what they're watching is amateurish, narcissistic pap (see Revolution and The Ghosts in Our Machine).
What's good about Aaron Yeger's heavy-handed issue doc, A People Uncounted, is that it isn't an example of a director trying to create an image for himself. Although it's essentially pre-packaged, uninspired filmmaking with an abundance of sob stories to manipulate its audience into forced agreement, it is a thoughtful and sincere presentation of the ongoing, centuries' old plight of the Romani people.
Starting with their treatment during WWII — being rounded up and thrown into concentration camps, along with Jews and homosexuals — Yeger provides a historical account of the many political factions, pre-Hitler, which similarly tried to exterminate or exclude the "Gypsy" (a misnomer) population. He's also careful to throw in some progressive theory about the social climate for people that have been subjugated historically, noting that criticisms concerning their thievery or nomadic lifestyle aren't biological traits so much as the result of having limited opportunities.
Genocide is defined and the modern white power movement is deconstructed, giving a broad overview of the many issues and secondary indicators of ongoing discrimination and hate. The intent is to give a bigger picture idea of how the persecution of the Romani people — an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of different cultures — has persisted throughout history and is perpetuated in modern society.
Although it's quite informative, in the way a Wikipedia article is helpful, there's also a lack of cohesion amongst the array of subjects and arguments presented. In part, it's the absence of framing that leaves everything seeming desultory, but it's also the overriding tendency to grab at sensationalist emotional responses, rather than practical, methodical exhibitions, which diminish the intellectual legitimacy of the piece.
It also doesn't help that absolutely no effort is made to make this into a film. As assembled, A People Uncounted is very much like a promotional video a corporation would show their staff prior to a town hall meeting. It's all surface information edited together without any consideration for a deeper read or even a vague visual or tonal trajectory. As such, it's not a great deal more entertaining than reading someone's undergraduate paper on the subject, having implicit importance in the issues it addresses, but no actual thought about presentation. (Kinosmith)