Published by the Alternate Dream
Anita: What to praise?
By Freida Mock
USA | 2013 | 84 min
The usual perils of film review or any judgement on art aside, reviewers of documentaries face unique challenges of their own. On what axis should we judge the films? Should whether the films, in fact, ‘document’ the subject well or how informative they are be the main concern? Then, what happens to aesthetics and art? It should be common sense that documentaries should do more than ‘inform.’ Otherwise how would they be different from an elaborated power point presentation with moving images? Have this in mind before we delve into Anita.
Freida Mock is the kind of big-shot name in the American documentary world that is guaranteed to muster resources that would enable her to delve into many different subjects. She won the Oscars back in the 1995 and has another four academy nominations on her resume. Her latest, Anita, is a story of the brave woman whose allegation of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas, a nominee of Bush Sr’s administration to the Supreme Court, captured the nation’s attention in 1991 and forever changed the way workplace anti-harassment complaints are made and received in America. Most importantly, the film consists of long interviews with Professor Anita Hill herself. In fact, it consists of not much else besides these, the footage of the Hill’s statement in the senate and interviews with two journalists and a few of Hill colleagues and friends. Also included is footage of some of the advocacy and public speaking work that Hill has been doing since coming to fame.
It is hard not to be moved by Anita. At its best, the film captures the fable-like strength, patience and vigor that Hill shows in face of such strong hostility. It is very personal and lets us be at ease with Anita the woman. The shocking statistics about the massive, positive impact that Hill’s affair has left (a rise in report of workplace sexual allegations) is presented just at the right moment and the footage of teen activists and many other she has inspired at the end adds to the ‘woods’ picture of a film that is sometimes too much about the ‘tree.’
But, despite all these positive points, can we call Anita a truly remarkable film? One way to see why I can’t answer affirmative to this question is to ask ourselves how many other ways one could have used the footage and material that Freda Mock had? In what way, is this a Mock film (no pun intended)? Here is where we can see the problem. Anita showed great courage and resilience in what she did but Anita lacks courage or creativity. It is the kind of big-shot doc that gives you the adequate standards but ultimately leaves you disappointed. There is nothing in the work of the film that we could truly praise.
What we heard in the conversation afterwards also tells you a lot about the film. Hill, who was met with the standing ovation of full-to-the-capacity Bloor cinema, was her usual self, bold but calm and to the point, like a good lawyer. But Lawyers barely make great movies on their own and Mock sorely lacks the artistic creativity that could have made Anita into a much better film. Shockingly and rather bizarrely, she told the audience that she “doesn’t take side” in the film (Wasn’t the whole Hill affair about taking side?) to revel a horrible liberal ‘impartial’ bias that hurts the film more than any other bias would have.