“I know there’s a past and I know that I lived in it and that I gave it up, to live only in the present.” As American poet and scholar Edwin Honig describes his loss of memory, his slipping into the state called Alzheimer’s disease, you watch a bridge collapsing into water. The footage is archival and black and white, a memory of another time, abstracted into a context for which it could never have been intended. The image of the bridge collapsing, in slow motion, reverberates, a brief indication of what it might feel like to break off from the past. Just so, the process of memory loss becomes incredibly, poignantly visible repeatedly in Alan Berliner’s documentary, First Cousin Once Removed, premieres on HBO 23 September. It’s as profound and personal a film as you might imagine. That it achieves such effects even as it is, at the same time, a movie that invites you to come “inside someplace where the unspeakable, the unseeable, the unsayable can be seen,” as one interviewee puts it. “And there’s a sense in which people both want to see it and don’t want to see it.”
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At work, Isaiah Owens splits his time between tending to the living and the dead. As tells his story in Christine Turner’s terrific documentary Homegoings, this funeral director—who knew what he wanted to be since he was a boy—brings you along, the camera close as he shares memories with survivors, helps them make arrangements, and then takes care of their loved ones, tenderly and compassionately. Bent over a corpse, his figure obscures your view. He wears blue medical gloves, as he injects “liquid tissue,” which he describes as “probably a first cousin to Botox,” one of many literal and metaphorical connections he draws between living and dead bodies. This lady is 98 years old, he observes, adding, “I’m going to need some Crazy Glue.” Later scenes of Isaiah at work show more, a face being made up, fingers being arranged, watery-red fluid swirling beneath a body toward a drain.
It took David Kato some time to discover his calling, his identity as a gay man in Uganda and, beyond that, as a courageous fighter for gay civil rights. As he recalls in Call Me Kuchu, he came to his self-understanding when he left Uganda, briefly, in 1992. On arriving in South Africa, he remembers, he stayed at a YMCA. “I saw these men on the street,” he says, and when he asked what they were selling, wondering whether it was “gold or diamonds,” he was told they were selling themselves. He was further surprised when he learned that these men sold themselves to other men. “I said, ‘For what?’” Here David exaggerates his response, cocking his head to the side. “I said, ‘Ahh.’ And I’ve always wanted men, so I went to the street.” Returning to Uganda, he cofounded SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda), and took up a series of public and legal campaigns against various sorts of homophobia, particularly concerning newspapers outing and targeting individuals. The filmmakers, Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, spend a year with Kato, tracking and commending his efforts and confidence, his infectious good humor and his terrific charisma.
“Go hard or go home.” Looming against a blue sky and brick walls, Pee Wee Kirkland asserts, “We changed basketball.” Playing the game on outdoor courts in New York City, he and his fellows forged a new attitude, a new style. “It was about living up to what you said, it was street flavor basketball.” Indeed, the pick-up games he’s describing have shaped all of basketball, a point illustrated over the past couple of weeks during the Eastern Conference Finals between the Pacers and the Heat, characterized by impressively athletic, physical play and all manner of trash talk.