“To Fidel, everything had to be the greatest in the world,” says Selma Diaz. “To him, they were the best in the world, not just the best in Latin America. They had to be the best schools of art in the world.” Under her narration, the camera in Unfinished Spaces makes its way along brick corridors and up stone stairways. As the structure appears both old and empty, in some disrepair, you might guess this journey is coming to an end even as she remembers its origins.
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“I’m not scared to face my creator,” says Paco Larrañaga. “I have a big space there, I’m sure.” Here on earth, though, he’s less certain. Interviewed in the New Bilibid Prison in the Philippines, Larrañaga wears an orange jumpsuit and peers awkwardly into the video camera’s wide lens. “It’s just so unfair, getting that lethal injection without me giving a fight,” he says. “I was not given a fair fight. I was not given a chance to defend myself.” Give Up Tomorrow begins partway through Larrañaga’s ordeal, then cuts back in time, as the filmmakers interview not only him and his family members, but also police officers and other officials who brought the case. When plainclothes policemen came to his door at school, he was afraid they were criminals come to kidnap him, his sister Mimi remembers: the scene is illustrated by a set of ominous animated silhouettes, setting up the surreal events to follow.
“I wondered for many years, I don’t know how long, why was I there at that crucial moment.” The Reverend Samuel Kyles, best known as Billy, pauses. “I knew it was more than coincidence. I just didn’t know what.” Forty years later, Kyles says, he still doesn’t have the words for what he experienced on 4 April 1968. Standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, he watched as his friend and fellow preacher, Dr. Martin Luther King, was shot and killed. Contemplating that event, as well as those that led to it and followed, Kyles appears serene, though hardly complacent. His recollections form the basis of The Witness: From The Balcony of Room 306, airing 4 October on the Documentary Channel.
“These players compete in everything,” says Herm Edwards, “That’s why they’re successful.” And according to Broke, it’s also one reason why some are unsuccessful when it comes to keeping hold of their fortunes. Re-launching EPSN’s brilliant documentary series, 30 for 30, Billy Corben’s documentary is essentially a series of interviews with raft of players, agents, money managers, and even a coach (that would be Edwards), recounting the effects of money on their lives.
The film takes on the bling-blingy look of Master P and Cash Money’s CD art from the early ‘90s, with bills and cheesy fire effects as backgrounds. The athletes—all men, from the NFL, NBA, and MLB—describe their great wealth and their bad choices, their excessive consumption of cars and women and jewelry. Former small forward Jamal Mashburn puts it this way: “Those fat rope chains people used to have on their necks were the only way that they could say they were successful.” This sounds short-sighted now, and that’s his point, that kids from poor backgrounds believed they needed to show their new wealth, and as they did so, they essentially threw their money away. “We were draped… that was the word… we were draped in ‘jewry,’” remembers former wide receiver Andre Rison (he also remembers here being engaged to Lisa Left Eye Lopes, who infamously burned down his house, a vivid literalization of the film’s cautions).
The bodies in the cemetery in Culiacán, Mexico are numerous. Many of them died young, victims of Mexico’s drug wars. Gang members and police officers, bystanders and wannabes, the dead appear sometimes in reports on the TV that the cemetery’s watchman runs at night, by way of a makeshift antenna. He listens and you hear that some 11,000 have been killed this past month alone, some 21,915 so far during Felipe Calderón’s presidency. You come to realize, late in Natalia Almada’s superb El Velador (The Night Watchman), that the year is 2009. It’s a year when Arturo Beltrán Leyva has been killed, “the capo of capos,” gone. But the process goes on, the deaths accumulate, and debts, so vigorously pursued, remain unpaid. The film—airing 27 September as as part of PBS’ terrific POV documentary series, and online starting 28 September—offers impressions of death and life too, shots of mausoleums under construction and children playing as their mothers clean gravestones. It also poses questions, focusing on the expansive land of the cemetery, so soon to be filled, the workers who do fill the empty space, on the sky and ground littered with structures. All serve as memorials to lives and deaths.
See PopMatters’ review.