SXSW2016, Part 2 (Monday-Tuesday, March 14-15)

The last two days of the festival have seen me continue with more of the same – movie screenings and interviews with directors and actors. Here are the reviews and interviews that have been published on Hammer to Nail since Sunday, March 13:

And now, below, are my thoughts on the two films I have seen on the ground for which I will not be writing reviews for Hammer to Nail.

Tony Robbins SXSW 2016
From l-r: Janet Pierson, Head of SXSW Film; Joe Berlinger, Director; Tony Robbins, subject

Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru (Joe Berlinger, 2016)

I am a big fan of the two documentaries by Joe Berlinger I had seen previously – Under African Skies and Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger – in both of which he demonstrated a commitment to journalistic principles that is sorely lacking in this, his new film. Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru is a film about the titular self-help goliath – a titan in both physical size and monetary wealth – about whose life and work I knew nothing before sitting down in the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas, to watch the film. I assumed that, whatever the subject, I was going to be treated to a solid piece of filmmaking by a man whose credentials were more than solid. During his introduction to the film (pictured above), however, Berlinger quite explicitly stated that this was unlike his earlier work, as he had had a life-changing experience recently and was offering up a positive portrait of a man he has come to admire.

He wasn’t kidding.

But more than a “positive portrayal,” it’s an infomercial. Robbins has made himself wealthy by charging high sums for his six-day “Date with Destiny” workshops, in which he practices his own personal brand of physical, and psycho-, therapy. He seems genuinely interested in people, but since the film never offers up much more than surface-level storytelling, we have no way of really discovering anything other than what Robbins wants us to see. That such a man as Berlinger could make such a movie is, to say the least, disappointing.


Learning to See: The World of Insects (Jake Oelman, 2016)

In this beautiful documentary, which filmmaker Jake Oelman (Dear Sidewalk) has made as a tribute to his father – insect photographer Robert Oelman – we witness the transformation of a dispirited fifty-year-old Bostonian into a lively seventy-something visual chronicler of the South-American rainforest. Instead of going to one of Tony Robbins’ workshops (see, above), Dr. Oelman, a psychotherapist depressed by his work, took off in the 1990s for Colombia, where he fell in love with the people and the landscape. Soon, he bought a house, and has lived there ever since. As he settled in, he took an interest in photography, and eventually in insects, and began working with macro lenses to better capture the natural world around him. Now, over 20 years later, Robert Oelman is a recognized artist and documentary photographer, whose work is seen as vital in the global effort to draw attention to our rapidly vanishing biodiversity. As one expert in the film says, “Until you value something, you’re not going to undertake meaningful action to protect it.” Let this lovely little movie stand as a testament to Oelman’s vital contribution to saving our planet.

To read about how the festival began, for me, check out my first post on SXSW2016.

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