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« NYFF: 'Too Late To Die Young' and 'Ray & Liz' | Main | Middleburg Film Festival Announces Its (Oscar-Seeking) Lineup »
Tuesday
Oct022018

Doc Corner: '306 Hollywood'

By Glenn Dunks

Hollywood 306 is the debut documentary from the sister-and-brother directing team of Elan Bogarin and Jonathan Bogarin. It’s a special film about a very un-special person. The film is not grand, but one rooted in the experience of a woman, the Bogarins’ grandmother, whose very unremarkable life in some funny way makes her entirely remarkable. It’s a film that is both intimate and large in generosity and heart, filled with delicate whimsy. That might sound like the type of movie that can be sickly sweet but the movie is visually interesting and evocative in its narrative choices.

Following the death of their grandmother Annette Ontell at the age of 93, Elan and Jonathan decided to perform a sort of ceremonial “archaeological excavation” on her home at 306 Hollywood, New Jersey. While initially laughed at by their delightfully profane mother who wants to empty the house and sell it, she agrees to give them one year...

A moderate hoarder of bits and bobs that only somebody who lived in the same house for decades could accumulate, Annette filled her home with the sort of things that many people would toss without a second thought: decades old taxes from her late husband’s accounting business, band-aid tins full of pennies, toothbrushes in various states of use.

Elan and Jonathan’s decision to make a movie of the process is spurred on by Elan’s personal collection of video tapes of their grandmother. Taken over ten years, the videos often show Annette doing little more than sitting down at her kitchen table to answer questions about life. Other times they show Annette in her easy chair as her daughter tries to get her to try on the wardrobe of luxurious dresses that she made from her time as a seamstress for Manhattan’s elite (she would use the remaining fabrics to make a copy of the dresses in her own size). These videos are interspersed throughout the kids’ dive through their grandmother’s artefacts (including rather bizarrely, a massive hand-cranked telescope that one assumes could fetch a fortune).

Annette’s belongings are arranged in tableaus of design and editing akin perhaps to something in a Wes Anderson movie or an Etsy crafts store. It’s cute, and could easily be insufferably so, but is made with such a loving and detailed hand that it’s hard to be annoyed – although one couldn’t exactly argue with a viewer who tired of its excessive cutesiness. I was surprised, in fact, that I didn’t seethe at it, and I take that as a signal of the documentary’s ultimate success.

Actually, the pair utilise a variety of filmmaking tricks: there are recreations of Elan and Jonathan’s childhoods, there are miniature dioramas, there is a fashion runway the front yard, a fashion archivist visits to get her own perception of Annette by observing the stitches and fabrics of Annette’s wardrobe, and there are fantasy sequences of magical realism. There are projections and montages and a ballet in vintage undergarments and a visit to the Rockefeller archives and the Biblioteca Casanatense in Rome. In the movie’s most evocative sequence, the discovery of audio tapes from earlier in their mother and grandmother’s life allows for playful recreations with actors lip-syncing to the real audio of the film’s subjects as they have mundane conversations about how to work the newfangled recorder or how people hate the sound of their own voice. Despite spending over and hour in the presence of the real people on the tapes, the sequences feel astonishing authentic and lived in.

306 Hollywood is the first film as director for both siblings, although Elan has produced a couple of other films including the Patton Oswalt film Big Fan and documentary Besa: The Promise about the protection of Jews by Muslims in Albania during WWII. I hope this isn’t a one-off for them as I appreciated their attempts at staging a documentary about an ordinary woman in some often extraordinary ways. Whether one likes it or not, the Bogarins have a cinematic vision that belies the ordinariness of its subject. I found 306 Hollywood to be an uncommonly warm and gracious documentary and one that in the end proves that there are no stories to small for the movies.

Release: Currently screening in NYC, opening in LA from next week. Presumably more to follow.

Oscar Chances: Probably too small and too cute for them, but watch it become a niche cause celebre.

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