SXSW Doc by ‘RBG’ Filmmakers – The Hollywood Reporter

Frustrated, sad and inspirational in equal measure, the documentary Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down represents another solid part of progress [Jewish] Feminist biographies from directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West, the duo behind RBG.

That Oscar-nominated documentary has the advantage of depicting an iconic story about a woman whose legacy is dealt with pretty well – while also helping to create memorabilia of badass Ruth Bader Ginsburg in handicraft industry. The new film, which premiered at SXSW, centers on a woman whose life and legacy are already in development, a winner in its own right, even if it leads to a movie. The document has a more uneven structure RBG – though perhaps the emotion is more immediate.

Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down

Key point

Inspirational and a little uneven, like reflecting a recovery process.

Meeting: SXSW Film Festival (Documentary Spotlight)

Directors: Julie Cohen and Betsy West

1 hour 37 minutes

Gabby Giffords, of course, is dead. That’s what the press reported after the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson. The Arizona agent’s death was passed on to her husband, Mark Kelly, and even became part of the most sacred spectacle of Aaron Sorkin’s multi-year journey. Newsroom. But despite those early mistakes, despite being shot in the head and other potentially fatal injuries 90% of the time, Giffords survived.

Her recovery, recovery and return to politics – as a gun safety advocate and as part of Kelly’s Senate campaign – make for a documentary that wants to tell many stories at once. at the time.

The medical story is, by itself, remarkable and relevant. The human brain is a puzzling thing, and Giffords’ ongoing battle with aphasia and various impairments is fascinating; Cohen and West benefited from Kelly’s decision to, in the first place, film every part of her recovery. You can see her leaps and bounds, the ways she still struggles, and her source of joy. Oliver Sacks has the nuances of seeing how music has become central to restoring her language skills, the connections she’s constantly trying to make between what’s happening in her head. and what she can express verbally or in writing. Certain moments will come true for anyone whose loved one has suffered a brain injury or a change in capacity. There’s also the compelling specificity of watching Giffords prepare for interviews or seeing how she might film a campaign commercial for Kelly, moments of behind-the-scenes intrigue that would have been at home in something. that’s like War Room.

Then there’s the story of the marriage between Giffords and Kelly, sometimes the longest relationship ever. Kelly was actually in space during at least one of Giffords’ key brain surgeries and couldn’t watch Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down without considering the unique independence they once had and their newer codependency. One can easily envision how Giffords will rely on Kelly more than ever. The bigger surprise was how much Kelly, who had never imagined herself as a candidate for elected office, needed to rely on Giffords. It’s unlike any marriage you’ve seen before.

And then there’s the documentary’s endorsement, tied to Giffords, a registered gun owner and former Republican, and her often thwarted efforts to promote reform. gun way after her shooting and after several mass shootings afterward. Here, directors can count on talking heads including Barack Obama, Jim Clyburn, Kirsten Gillibrand and other Democrats.

The blend of inspiration and frustration in Giffords’ story creates challenges that the documentary doesn’t always overcome.

At times, the simmering anger of the political camp in this documentary boils over. You can hear it in President Obama’s voice, in Giffords’ weariness, in his ideologically one-sided heads (as if it would be incomprehensible if anyone had the “R” next to their name says anything nice about Gabby Giffords at all), in the way Kelly’s opponents for the Senate seat still feel encouraged to smear Giffords’ background and corruption. Kelly’s involvement with it in their debates. It’s hard to remember the detailed footage without becoming exhausting – and even if it only lasts a few minutes, the time spent in the shooter becomes a detour that feels out of place.

There are also gaps in personal portraiture, possibly due to COVID limitations or Kelly’s limited availability as an incumbent senator. This leads to some odd choices, especially in the current parts of the story. For instance, I found it disconcerting when one of the Giffords’ stepdaughters appeared at the beginning to recall their strained relationship before filming and then appeared at the end to say that everything was fine. better, but essentially not in the rest of the documentary, leaving the dots unconnected. And I don’t know if it’s the storyteller in me or the Jewish story the Observer in me, but I’m perplexed that Giffords’ preparation for her bat mitzvah in late 2021 is seen as more of an afterthought than a sort of powerful metaphor that very few documentarians have on a single day. such a silver plate.

Batman mitzvah has a feeling it could be a climactic moment the documentary lacks, an alternative to the full-blown gun reform Giffords is still looking for, full recovery still in the process. working program. Or maybe the directors avoided it for that reason, to keep this raw unfinished story as slick and neat as ever. RBG. I can admire how messy it is on those terms.

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