Which is more sustaining: hope or resignation? Hope. Why? Because it must be. Which is stronger: happiness or sadness? Such a silly question. Have you ever seen what a smile can lift?
In the documentary film, "We Are Together," harsh reality meets humble courage. Amid the poverty-stricken, AIDS-decimated front lines of South Africa, an orphanage leverages a transcendent cultural-characteristic song.
At home, seven brothers and sisters sing, "We Are Together ... We Are Family." Their parents died from AIDS. The eldest brother is dying from AIDS. The struggling older sisters cannot provide for their younger siblings. So, the four youngest siblings live at the Agape orphanage.
The young ones also receive guidance and a symbolic long shot toward improving the plight of 1.2 million parentless children in South Africa. With a structured devotion to singing, they shorten the odds as much as they can muster -- at least for the children at the Agape center. (The Greek word, pronounced ah-gah-pee, means self-sacrificing, unconditional love.)
The children work to create a CD and to be connected with fundraising opportunities in rich cities.
Director Paul Taylor captures images and juxtapositions that are simply telling and thoroughly engaging. He captures hope as well as resignation. He captures happiness as well as sadness. He captures the muster of these children, and the best of that in smiles.
The extended hand and heart of this film is so palpable, it is almost embarrassing. Consider a quietly subversive bit of profundity, but see the film "We Are Together" for a much fuller effectivity: "We cannot all speak at once, but we can all sing at once."
You may need to wait until 2008 for the chance to see "We Are Together." Even if it gets nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar, you'll have to keep your eyes peeled to assure a viewing. Yet it just appeared in Grass Valley where a maybe a few dozen people saw it in six midday showings.
Little, off-the-beaten-track Grass Valley has one of 14 theaters nationwide that are showing four documentaries so they might qualify for the next round of Academy Awards. These showings offer a great opportunity. This is a cool example of the range and depth of artistic commitment in the sister towns of Grass Valley and Nevada City. Will the three documentaries scheduled midday, Tuesday through Thursday through September at Del Oro be as special as "We Are Together"? I can't say. Haven't seen 'em.
However, the opportunity to see them is special, and the odds are good that they will be worth seeing. Also, the opportunity is special to further solidify a local culture that routinely supports documentary films. The Wild and Scenic Film Festival, the Magic Theatre and its Nevada City Film Festival, and the Nevada Theatre's Sunday night film series already ring a carillon of uniquely tuned bells.
That said, documentaries generally experience short runs and relatively small audiences. Some of the best filmmaking, some of the best awareness raising, happens in documentaries. They rarely pay off in money proportionate to the passion, dedication, capabilities and human connection committed.
Seeing documentaries is a cool facet to considering yourself a moviegoer ... or a consumer ... or a citizen. It's a great way to engender appreciation for some cool spirited local purveyors of independent film.