It’s rare to see the audience sit through the credits of a film outside of a Marvel movie. However, that’s exactly what happened in my showing of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? After the emotional roller-coaster, we silently agreed it would be bad taste to immediately get up and walk out. While the credits were only a few minutes, I sensed the audience would’ve gladly sat there half an hour.
I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to say here. This is new territory for me. Documentaries don’t lure me in the same way works of narrative fiction do. Documentaries I’ve seen often only present facts about a certain subject or event hoping the audience finds it interesting. The only two documentaries I’ve seen attempt making a point with the information: 2013’s Blackfish and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Fred Rogers, it seems, really was as kind and caring as his famous television program depicted. The film uses his kindness, understanding, love of children, and compassion for everyone around him as a mirror for society. We live in a culture that that distrusts anyone or anything lacking a cynical outlook on the world. Society craves the public disgrace of celebrities, declining rate of news credibility, and forum arguments on the internet. These then create a world where we’re always on our guard. We are constantly suspecting that somebody could be an enemy. However, this documentary’s portrayal of somebody who didn’t have an ounce of cynicism in his soul forces the audience to realize this. It also challenges them to change.
As I was watching Rogers onscreen I thought, “There is no way that this man didn’t have a skeleton in his closet or a kid in his pants. There’s no way he was this pure.” However, when I made myself face the fact that he probably was just a kind man who loved children, I was confronted with how hardened my heart had become. All because of the past few years of turmoil, distrust and internet shouting matches.
I’m not sure how to judge this on a technical level. Unlike fiction films, none of the main footage was filmed by the filmmakers. This means there’s no composition, no blocking, no audio editing etc. I suppose the producer structured it well, smoothly transitioning from one topic to the next without it feeling jarring. I also saw no editing hiccups and they found good, interesting people to interview.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Overall:
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is the best film I’ve seen all year. It’s also one of the best-made documentaries I’ve ever seen. And, for the first time in a long time, I’m actively looking forward to the Blu-Ray release. It uses a beloved public figure to show the sort of love, compassion, and understanding we should aspire to yet never truly reach. In the doldrums of the summer-movie wasteland, this quality, heartfelt little documentary is exactly the sort of emotional cleansing we desperately need in our modern age.