Tribeca Film Festival 2011

'The Swell Season’ and ‘The Loving Story’

by Sachyn Mital

5 May 2011

One great documentary is about a relationship that may eventually be forgotten, and another important documentary about a relationship which set a precedent on equal rights for marriage.
The Loving Story 

The Swell Season

Director: Nick August-Perna, Carlo Mirabella-Davis and Chris Dapkins
Cast: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova

The Loving Story

Director: Nancy Buirski

Two films, documentaries to be precise, about love and relationships, The Swell Season and The Loving Story, played at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 29th, with filmmakers fielding questions afterwards. But while the former is about a relationship that may eventually be forgotten, the relationship in the latter film, begun almost two generations ago, was vital in creating an important legal precedent still being used today.

The Swell Season film was originally construed as a film about the band of the same name (featuring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) going on tour around the world. Following the movie Once, which won the duo Academy Award for their best original song “Falling Slowly” in 2008, Hansard and Irglova’s relationship escaped the construct of the screen and became apparent in real life. But the evolution of their relationship, growing from friendship into song-writing collaborators into lovers into bandmates again, occurred while the director shot footage and their growing popularity intersected. 

What the directors, Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis, were able to construct was an emotional, raw look at this relationship. Cast into the spotlight, Irglova, the quieter one and just 18, resists against the fame when she declines from participating in photo taking for fans. Yet Hansard, at 35, had already spent nearly 20 years with his band, the Frames, having dropped out of school and taken his guitar to busk at the age of thirteen. He was accustomed to, welcoming of, and gracious for, the fame and the fans because he truly worked hard for it. These differing expectations and experiences, plus the effect of the limelight, form a wedge that drives them apart.

Hansard is notable for being a very open, honest singer and storyteller on stage. In the film, we are given an even closer look at his life by way of his parents, both of whom have had significant impact in Hansard’s life. His mother, Catherine, is shown proud of her son, while his father, James, keeps walled away, protected by a moat of alcohol.

Overall, the film is an emotional and honest portrayal of an adored band. Through the inclusion of the Swell Season’s very personal and honest music, The Swell Season will allow an audience to experience some of the emotional rollercoaster the duo went through, as a band and as a couple.

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The Swell Season

On the other hand, The Loving Story is more historic; its about love of course, between Richard and Mildred Loving, but also about the pivotal 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia which overturned anti-miscegenation laws in over a dozen states. The interracial couple married in the District of Columbia before returning to their home in Virginia. Here they were arrested for miscegenation and exiled from the state. As the Civil Rights movement gained traction, Mrs. Loving reached out to the ACLU to get their aid in fighting back. Eventually, the case reached the Supreme Court, which reversed the state court’s decision because “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”

After reading about Mrs. Loving’s death in 2008, director Nancy Buirski set out to make the film about their story. Working on the project, she was incredibly lucky to find original footage of the Loving family in the possession of Hope Ryden, and we are equally lucky to be able to see it. With Ryden’s footage, plus footage from ABC and additional rare photographs from Grey Villet and other publications, Buirski is able to recreate the narrative using authentic voices. The documentary explores racism and fights for equality for all to love and marry; Mr. Loving’s words for the court are .

But even with the advantage of original footage, the film tries too hard and could use some polishing up. While The Swell Season was filmed in black and white to create a “transportative effect” and compresses time better than color, The Loving Story makes use of both older black and white film with more modern interview clips in color. Yet the latter film also unfortunately attempts to “recreate” scenes like sneaking into Virginia and getting out of the trunk of a car; and these scenes contrast poorly with the original footage.

However, a larger detriment was the inclusion of music almost at random in the movie. During an interview with Mr. Loving’s mother, annoying banjo music plays over the clip. At another point the wail of saxophone fills ears while near the end, some classical piece is introduced. But there is no music during other clips. Without the formation of a musical thematic structure, the mixing of all the styles fails to unify this documentary.

There is no denying the importance of Loving for its message and its historical importance though. The case is frequently cited in the contemporary same-sex marriage debate, in courtrooms from New York to California. Certainly, the Lovings never thought they were making history when they got married.

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