By Ciara LaVelle
By Calum Marsh
By Voice Media Group
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Sherilyn Connelly
By Inkoo Kang
By Carolina del Busto
By Alan Scherstuhl
Camera explores the history of home movies starting with the first 16mm cameras in the 1920s, marketed to the globe-trotting elite, and then goes into the postwar baby-boom era, when an entire generation literally grew up in front of the lens. Shopsowitz then moves from family footage to personal depictions of historic events. She interviews, for instance, soldiers who brought their cameras along during the invasion of Normandy. The segments offer a window to what D-Day really looked like to enlisted men battling the waves to get ashore -- a view that newsreels could not capture.
There is also homemade footage of Ku Klux Klan marches in the deep South, mutilated WWII airmen recovering in a Canadian retreat, and a member of Duke Ellington's band documenting white-supremacist graffiti while on tour during the 1940s.
The documentary is contextualized by insightful interviews with several film critics, academics, and archivists who help support Shopsowitz's thesis. The interviews at times become pedantic, and the piece begins to feel like it belongs in a Filmmaking 101 class rather than a film festival. However, the sedate tone is leavened by playful sequences shot by the filmmaker using her father's camera, as well as the unique images from long-lost personal collections.
Camera embraces home movies as important artifacts of popular culture without lingering in the nostalgia that inadvertently surrounds family flicks. Its bottom line emphasizes the importance of a personal perspective of the world, no matter how quirky or controversial the images may be.
There is always potential for drama when an expatriate returns to his or her homeland. Think of what happened when Electra returned to Troy or Oedipus emerged from the wilderness to take his rightful place as the ruler of Thebes. Blood flows, governments topple, and taboos are shattered as the gods have their way with the silly mortals who dare challenge their destiny.
While dramatic effect does not live up to Greek standards when exiled Cubans return to Havana, the social and political tensions simmering beneath the trip home are just as vibrant. And when the personal realm of a homecoming is layered into the narrative, there is untold potential for a gripping emotional tale that rings universal.
Miami filmmaker Rhonda Mitrani attempts to tell such a story in her short documentary film Cuba Mia, depicting Mitrani and her family's trip back to La Isla along with a group of fellow Cuban Jews, returning after decades in el exilio. The group is seen peering out the windows of a tour bus as a Cuban guide shows them the layout of a modern and decrepit Havana. Then there are interviews with the travelers, who share their family histories and memories of their former homes. The exiles climb the walls of their old hangouts to get a look at the empty swimming pools of their childhoods, and then wax emotional on how a certain wall remains exactly as they remembered it.
More compelling are the segments that address the history and current state of Cuban Jewry. A day trip to the once-opulent synagogue in Havana and community center, which lies forgotten in shambles, serves as the anchor to an examination of this intriguing and often-overlooked culture. Mitrani, however, falls short of exploring the subject in a gripping and incisive manner.
The exiles' trip is interesting at first, but after each traveler's reunion with long-lost relatives and old neighbors is shown in the same flat tone, Cuba Mia becomes repetitious and tedious. Mitrani keeps her film in the realm of the personal and does not delve into more poignant aspects of the Miami exiles' journey. As a result the film is encumbered by a weepy nostalgia, which can be found just as easily at any cafecito stand in Miami.
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