Out of the many things we learn from this movie, the number one thing might be that we should NEVER marginalize the documentary as a genre.
Synopsis: From Academy Award® -winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom), Won’t You Be My Neighbor? takes an intimate look at America’s favorite neighbor: Mister Fred Rogers. A portrait of a man whom we all think we know, this emotional and moving film takes us beyond the zip-up cardigans and the land of make-believe, and into the heart of a creative genius who inspired generations of children with compassion and limitless imagination. (Focus Features)
Starring: Joanne Rogers, Betty Aberlin, and McColm Cephas Jr.
Director: Morgan Neville
Rating: PG (Canada)/PG-13 (United States)
Running Time: 94mins
The documentary is a fairly overlooked genre- it is extremely rare for a theatrical documentary to get attention, never mind a good release. Since it’s premiere at Sundance this past January, this film has gained slow but sure momentum since then. Its endless critical praise conjoint with it’s fantastic trailer have built a true anticipation for the film, unlike any doc in a long time. Thankfully, audiences have picked the right documentary to be looking out for, as this is a truly special one.
There’s no other way to say it- Fred Rogers is a true icon. Not only did he gain celebrity status through his career in educational television, but he and his aura of kindness have changed the lives of endless youth. Nearly two decades have passed since the cancellation of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and the extremely unfortunate passing of Rogers himself. Although the format and style of his program is not something we often see in modern day television, his messages and positivity are needed now more than ever- and there was no better way to bring him back than this truly emotional and resonant portrait of the man’s career.
Roger’s rise to success is not something we necessarily need a full length film to retell to us. Thankfully, this documentary takes a very unconventional structure and approach that creates a true investment from the audience. With a mix of archival footage and talking heads- this film really helps us not only get into the mind of rogers, but have a true emotional attachment to him and his ideologies. Simply said, the way director Morgan Neville decides to tell us why Rogers felt his structure and messages were necessary for his generation’s children to see. Seeing his motivation and desire to create a better society and youth takes what we already know about him- and helps us to love him even more.
This is not a film for just fans of Rogers, and its not all about his content, either. Opposed to being the traditional biography, this takes the brilliantly beautiful route of being a story of a man who used his platform to make real change- and the focus isn’t exactly about the particular figure at the forefront. Audiences don’t even really need to know who he is to appreciate the extremely important values this film and story try to express. It is just easy to fall for the ideologies present in this documentary, especially when these messages resonate with us now more than ever in this day and age (surprisingly so, for those who watched the series through their childhood).