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At last night’s Silverdocs opening party at the Fillmore Silverdocs, a band called The Reagan Years played gusto-fueled, very competent versions of ’80s hits I had no desire to hear. Neal Schon, the Journey guitarist who attended the screening of Don’t Stop Believin’ across the street at the AFI Silver only to skip the talk-back, was not around to hear his own songs covered. But the crowd seemed to have enjoyed the film, as did we. As for our favorites among tonight’s selections—-there’s nary a rock doc in site.
It sounds like the white man’s most burdensome of missions: The owners of an organic ice cream boutique in bourgie Brooklyn go to Rwanda to help a group of women start their own shop. The Americans take pictures, receive plaudits, and advertise their beneficence to guilty liberal ice cream eaters back home. Next stop, Oprah. But the seemingly loathsome premise yields something a little more complex in Rob and Lisa Fruchtman’s Sweet Dreams. Kiki Katese, the leader of an all-women Rwandan drumming troupe, found Blue Marble Ice Cream on a trip to the United States, and asked the owners to create something similar in the city of Butare. Hers isn’t a normal percussion collective, but a blend of two ethnic groups, one of which brutally slaughtered the other in the genocide of 1994—making the shop not just an economic development project but a symbol of national reconciliation. The dramatic context, however, gets in the way of the real narrative. The film tries to tell two stories: one about memories of a horrific past, through emotional interviews with the women who lived through it; the other about an unlikely communal business enterprise that faces challenges and seems to have succeeded. The first is tragic, but we’ve heard it before. The second is more interesting, and could’ve stood on its own.—-Lydia DePillis
Early on in Waiting Room, a physician at the Alameda County Medical Center in Oakland, Calif., mentions how ER’s high-adrenaline, primetime action inspired countless careers in critical care. But while gunshot victims occasionally arrive in need of immediate salvation, he notes, refilling diabetes medication before a patient runs out matters just as much. The Waiting Room doesn’t need disaster-movie camera work to captivate, either. This emergency room’s generic yet claustrophobic nexus of need provides more than enough human drama. The literal pain of waiting with a bullet wound while ambulances deliver more victims abuts the challenge of explaining high-acuity triage to a patient demanding to be seen. A frequent visitor with a nasty meth habit gets a “million-dollar workup for a rough night out,” while a young couple confronts a testicular cancer diagnosis sans insurance. Cutting across race, culture, and class, the film inhabits a remarkably broad cross-section of American urban life and imparts a deep sense of frustration. Yet Waiting Room doesn’t simply shed light on a broken healthcare system; like the best dramas, it humbly illuminates the human condition without narration or agenda. When strings swell up for the first time in the film’s final moments, it’s a catharsis that’s well-earned.—Ryan Little
Martine Fokken, 69, takes the bus to work each morning. Her chihuahua tucked into her pocketbook, she passes rows of beat-up bicycles that straddle the Amstel river, and makes small talk with passers-by: “What a day for a bike ride,” she chirps to a man in the street. “Are you making coffee this morning?” he asks. Indeed, she is. Come by in half an hour. “Good morning, John!” she greets the local shopkeep. He greets her warmly. Then Martine gets right to the point. “I need condoms. Make it a box.” John doesn’t blink. “A box it is!” Ah, it’s just another day in the life of a senior-citizen prostitute who’s worked for 50 years in the heart of Amsterdam’s red light district. Her beloved twin sister, Louise, retired two years ago with arthritis. They share clothing, a love of painting, a taste for wine, and tales of johns of all shapes, sizes, and kinks. But Gabrielle Provaas and Rob Schröder’s documentary doesn’t just mine the Fokkens for cheap laughs, though shots of wiggly geriatric nutsacks might yield a couple of those. Meet the Fokkens is a fascinating story of a changing industry, one that plenty of Amsterdam residents would prefer to forget. The Fokken twins have been in the business too long to mind other people’s contempt—half those twits are punters anyway, they might say. And it’s not like they chose the profession over a respectable desk job: Their foray into sex work was marred by tragedy and exploitation. Now, despite her old age, Martine stays in the business to make ends meet, navigating newfangled sex toys, competition from younger foreign women, and mounting financial hardship. But one thing hasn’t changed: The Fokkens are beloved, embraced by old friends and new when they stroll together through the street.—-Ally Schweitzer