I have always believed that an excellent documentary has to have a strong point of view and it has to be entertaining. Finding Big Country (44 minutes) delivers on all levels. Directed by Kathleen S. Jayme (Kat) the film opens with the story of Vancouver Grizzlies' supposed superstar, Bryant “Big Country” Reeves when he was drafted in 1995. However, this film is not so much about Big Country as it is about the director's infatuation with her childhood hero and her own love for the game of basketball.
When Kat was seven years old Big Country was drafted into the Vancouver Grizzlies. There was a lot of hype and controversy about a seven-foot-tall player with a crew cut looking out of shape and leading the new franchise in Vancouver. As the Grizzlies struggled and Big Country tried to live up to the media hype, Kat went on her own journey to become the first female NBA player. Her story runs almost parallel to Big Country's where they both climbed up the ladder, came down and rose back up again.
This film is masterfully put together through live action and animation, humour and warmth, sadness and happiness. The editing and photography are strong and compelling. The director pursues her mission in Finding Big Country and in many ways to find herself through his story. This is a wonderful human interest story, well crafted and beautifully told. I can't wait to see the next film she makes. Finding Big Country deserves 5 out 5 tugboats.
Contrasting Finding Big Country in this double bill, The Issue of Mr. O'Dell (34 minutes) struggles to lay out the director's, Rami Katz, point of view and for this the film lacks a strong appeal. Katz structured the story with mostly current day interview footage of 94-year-old Jack O'Dell along with black and white photos from the civil rights movement in the time period between the 1950s and early 1960s in the United States.
Jack O'Dell was an activist for civil rights. He believed that the Communist Party in the US fought to eliminate racism in the working man's labour unions and for this reason he became a member. However, times were very tumultuous with the pressures exerted by the likes of J. Edgar Hoover and John F. Kennedy. Mr. O'Dell became disenfranchised with parts of the civil rights movement; he never lost sight of the war against racism in the US and continued working on this issue right up to the present.
Katz does a good job to bring in some of the catalysts that lit fires in the system - Martin Luther King Jr., the marches, the labour unions' strikes, the intimidation tactics of the police against “black people” and “Black Lives Matter.” Katz documents the story of Mr. O'Dell and supports it with visuals; I felt the film lacked originality, drive and interest. For these reasons I give The Issue of Mr. O'Dell 2 out of 5 Tugboats.
Finding Big Country and The Issue of Mr. O'Dell are playing as a double bill in the Powell River Film Festival at Patricia Theatre starting at 1:30 pm Saturday, February 16.
Stephen J. Miller is a producer and creative writer in feature films and television, and past owner of repertoire movie theatres.