Approaching the Elephant

2019-12-02T21:39:10+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

Approaching the Elephant Director/ Amanda Rose Wilder Watched at True/False Film Festival Rating 4.5/5 Approaching the Elephant, a striking, DIY documentary by director Amanda Rose Wilder, chronicles the inaugural year of an experimental elementary school in New Jersey, Wilder, working alone, adopts the style of direct cinema filmmakers such as Albert Maysles (Salesman) and D.A Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back). Wilder avoids narration, talking heads, soundtrack music, or any manipulative point-of-view, planting herself in the classroom as the virtual personification of a fly-on-the-wall. The classic technique, which can more often than not tumble slowly down the hallways of tedium, requires–when done well–not only a firm and patient commitment on the part of the filmmaker, but also subject matter that lives up to the investment of a viewer’s time. In the case of this film, what begins as a sometimes shambling, unfocused experiment gathers an absorbing, even visceral power. Several years ago I worked as a freelance cameraman on a CBS news series called “Before Your Eyes,” which attempted to mimic the direct cinema experience by allowing the characters, combatants in a child custody case, to go about their day making phone calls, driving to meetings and walking in and out of rooms, observed up close and from afar by a camera crew always listening in via wireless microphones. The idea, the audience was told, was to watch a story develop before your eyes. The program was brazenly anti-commercial for such a profit-driven corporation, and the enormous cost of paying production crews quickly sunk the series after a [...]