Tag Archives: Mary Hubert

Antique Critique: Stop Loss

by Mary Hubert

I tend to hate war movies. I’m an avid pacifist, and films like American Sniper flooding the big screen make me even more frustrated with the war propaganda that has become so popular with the modern American audience. For this reason, I was wary of watching Stop Loss from the get-go. Continue reading Antique Critique: Stop Loss

Review: David Kulcsar’s Sleep, Marilyn and Dream

by Mary Hubert

Sleep Marilyn and DreamThe stark white set was what I noticed immediately upon entering the theater to watch David Kulcsar’s world premiere of Sleep, Marilyn, and Dream. White couch, white walls, white table, white bookshelf. I thought it was an interesting choice, and looked to see who had designed the set. To my surprise, I found that the entire production was directed, written, and designed by David Kulcsar. In addition, he was playing a role in the production.

Ambitious, I thought to myself. I rarely see work where one person holds the reins of every aspect of a production, and I rarely like work of this nature. It was with no small amount of trepidation that I settled in to watch the piece.

In some ways, I was pleasantly surprised. Kulcsar’s piece is set in Heaven and features celebrity characters galore, including Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, and Audrey Hepburn. If nothing else, it offered a nostalgic jaunt down memory lane. The actors did well at each of their character impersonations – Emily Shuel’s Audrey Hepburn was spot on, and Kulcsar himself played a convincing Marlon Brando.  There were so many “A-ha” moments as each dead celebrity strolled onstage that I was almost able to ignore the not-so-entertaining parts… namely, the script.

Here, the problem of being the sole creator of the piece shone through. The script tried too hard to insert drama into a story that really didn’t have that much to offer. Often, moments felt corny rather than poignant, because they weren’t earned with established relationships between characters. In short, I didn’t care about the drama, because I wasn’t made to care about the characters. The dialogue felt contrived around references to the celebrities being impersonated, and the story of Marilyn’s lost children was predictable. The piece was impressive given its sole creation, but the weakness of the writing made me wish for more hands in the pot than just David’s.

Ultimately, Kulcsar’s production was a good first draft of what could potentially become a decent play. His ideas are compelling, and placing celebrities in conversation with each other onstage is always entertaining. The actors, though they focused too heavily on portraying celebrities instead of people, did admirably. The design was lovely. The pieces were all there – they just needed a better backbone to hold them together. In any piece, regardless of how compelling its components are, the story must be the priority. Kulcsar seems to have lost the thread of his amidst the glamour of old Hollywood.

The bottom line: Kulcsar’s project was an ambitious and entertaining stroll into the lives of beloved stars. However, even good impersonators and references galore failed to mask a mediocre plot. The piece has potential – revise the script and have another go!

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.

South Seattle Goes to Bumbershoot

by Mary Hubert

Photo courtesy Wikiphotos
Photo courtesy Wikiphotos

I had only been to Bumbershoot a smattering of times over the past few years, and each time had felt vaguely indifferent to the festival as a whole. Mediocre music, moderately priced tickets, and the same old street vendors as were prominent at every Seattle street fair, from University District to Ballard and back again. I walked in this past Saturday, therefore, with mixed expectations.

I was greeted by a very friendly press room, complete with bagels, and after a brief stop, I was on my way into the festival. The eclectic mix of street fair and festival I actually found myself enjoying – if ever there was a gap in the schedule of artists I wanted to see, it was comforting to know that I could at least peruse the wide array of jewelry, merchandise, and fair food available.

The first artist I saw was Dude York, playing inside the Seattle Center. With a subtle flash of my press pass, I was in. However, the queue of would-be attendees wasn’t so lucky. I immediately noticed the space left in the venue – with a little squeezing, all 25 people might have fit. Though the space felt open and uncrowded, for the people who had paid to get into a festival that they were unable to see music at, it was unfortunate. The same held true for many other events – Bill Nye was a wonderful show, but for the line out the door, and other comedy shows were sold out from the start of the day. For those who had come to see specific shows, they may have felt that their tickets had been wasted.

On the whole, the artists we saw were enjoyable. Dude York was some very mediocre punk rock – they channeled the Pixies, but with worse songwriting. However, Big Freedia was perfect in all her sassy glory – her shouted encouragement at twerking women were perfect, and her music spot-on. Mac DeMarco was fun country rock in all of its trucker hat, twangy glory, with some decent songwriting along with charming band members to boot.

Panic! At the Disco was, as usual, awful (why do people like these guys?), but the lead singer partially redeemed himself with one hell of a back flip. Bill Nye took me back to the 90s, again making me overly interested in science – in this instance, sun dials (did you know there’s one on Mars?). Elvis Costello was worth it for sheer celebrity viewing, though his guitar seemed to be about as big as he was, and Polica was hauntingly beautiful in its synth-pop meets soulful singer manner. The award for kick-ass show, however, went to Walk the Moon, whose extremely enthusiastic young lead singer and catchy songs like “Shut Up and Dance With Me” led everyone in the crowd to a dancing, singing, shaking high.

I left feeling like I had gotten my share of good music at a venue that, for downtown Seattle, did a pretty good job of hosting these people. Even the visual art was unique, and provided a welcome break from the madness. Photographs from the 1960s were compelling, and especially enjoyable were the playable video games, which visualized sound in a beautiful way.

All in all, Bumbershoot lived up to its reputation, and even surpassed it. Its idiosyncratic mixture of festival and Seattle street fair made it appealing, and the prevalence of decent artists made the music worthwhile. Most of all, I appreciated the effort that was made to appeal to a wide range of audiences. From Elvis Costello to Big Freedia to Panic! At the Disco to Wu Tang Clan, Bumbershoot on Saturday alone appealed to at least four demographics. Despite the overcrowding and the terrible quality of the maps, I found myself having a lovely time, and experiencing a wide array of artists that I typically wouldn’t have seen at a music festival.

The bottom line: Ultimately, Bumbershoot is what you make it. Next year, buy a ticket for one day, or two, depending on who’s playing, but rest assured that you’ll most definitely find something you like – provided you can get in.

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.


Review of Scotto Moore’s Balconies

by Mary Hubert

Scotto Moore has written and directed six productions at Annex: one late night, four mainstage, and one off night, all largely centered on science fiction. He is drawn to the speculative quality of science fiction, he says – it provides an alternate model of reality. So why the deviance?

Balconies, the story of two very different people, each hosting a party, who have only adjacent balconies in common, is more romantic comedy than sci fi. When I asked him, he said that he had recently felt science fiction was limiting him – he wants to do something different every time he does a play, and needed to branch out into other genres in order to satisfy this itch. This time, he was interested in making something accessible, with a big build throughout the entire piece in the style of Peter Seller’s “The Party”.

With all of this in mind, I sat down to watch Balconies.

I immediately noticed the set: clever hints of vastly different lifestyles through glimpses of interior décor effectively set the mood for two clashing personalities. Posters of X-Men hung crookedly from the left apartment’s orangeish walls, while on the righthand side, a perfectly manicured potted plant sat on a tasteful table against white walls. These details set the stage – literally – for a night of situational humor.

On the whole, Scotto’s deviance from his comfort zone was successful. I found the script to be cheesy but entertaining – moments of exposition caused it to drag in the first half of the first act, and the gaming conversations tended to get a bit old, but generally it zinged along fairly enjoyably.

Some of the worst over-exposition occurred in the beginning of the play, when characters were congratulating others on what they had done for the game they created – they threw titles and facts about each other willy nilly in an unnecessary attempt to make each character have a back story. The effect was falsity rather than illumination.

This was exacerbated by some distracting over-acting, which seemed to be a common problem with these actors. While their acting might have worked perfectly on a larger stage, in Annex’s intimate space it felt forced. However, despite these moments, the script’s clever quips kept the audience relatively engaged, with the odd moment of unison laughter.

The characters also shone, specifically the gamers. Scotto portrayed each nerd and over-excited gaming fanatic in a realistic but endearing way that hit the quirks of the type spot on – as a former teenage gamer, I found myself laughing in recognition at behaviors and lingo.

The plot was rather fluffy, typical of what you’d expect from a romantic comedy. The “What else could go wrong?” build was cleverly achieved with only a few minor hiccups through an increasingly absurd party, but the plot itself wasn’t anything special.

Where it shone was in its snappy one-liners and seemingly offhand comments that had me guffawing. References to Seattle-based and generational humor – one particularly hilarious comment about Cameron’s Burning Man storage unit got me for a full minute– were welcome sparks of uniqueness in an otherwise relatively generic boy-meets-girl storyline. They gave me a decided idea of Scotto’s wicked sense of humor.

Despite the show’s rather slow start, by the end, I was right along with the now-lovable characters as they navigated the new relationships built amongst the tatters of one hell of a rager.

The bottom line: Scotto’s clever comedy, while falling relatively flat in plot and acting, manages to save itself in truly brilliant moments of comedy that felt relevant and unique. Steel yourselves for some dragging moments and bad acting, but go check this show out – if only for the hilarious jokes that you’ll keep repeating long after it’s done!

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.

Review: The Amish Project by Jessica Dickey

by Mary Hubert

photo by Erik Stuhaug
photo by Erik Stuhaug

A one-person show is always hard to pull off. If the actor cannot hold their own onstage, there is no one there to cover their faults. The subject matter must be interesting enough to watch one person tell a story for over an hour. The storytelling must make do with a set that is simple enough to work with, not against, its storyteller. And, most importantly, every aspect – character, space, circumstance, and all else – must be done with absolute specificity.

It was with apprehension, then, that I entered Taproot to see The Amish Project, a one-woman play written in response to the Amish school shooting in Nickel Mine, PA, in 2006. In this tragic event, a man took 10 young girls hostage with the goal of molesting them, shooting them all and killing 5.

Taproot’s attempt to expand on their standard material went over relatively well. Though by one-person show standards it was a traditional one, it still deviated from their standard canon of musicals and classics. The subject material felt relevant given the recent rash of school shootings, and the convention of a one-person show worked fairly effectively to portray and raise questions about this issue.

At times, I found my attention wandering – 90 minutes is a long time to watch one person, and the script tended to get repetitive in the middle. However, for the most part I stayed engaged, due largely to the quality of Marianne Savell’s performance.

Savell’s specificity was admirable. She used her right hand primarily for gesturing, with her left hand used less often. However, for each character, the left hand served to portray a different tic: one of the little girls grabbed at her dress, one woman held her hand on her hip, and another, the wife of the killer, swung it loosely at her side, signaling her simultaneous anxiety and apathy toward a world that had rejected her. These small but effective choices aided the audience in following each character, and made me invested in each person’s journey.

I also appreciated the effort made by both the actor and the script to humanize all of the characters, even the killer. Each time Savell portrayed a different character it was with the same specificity and care. Her unwillingness to make any character a stereotype made each one human.

My primary complaint with the piece is that instead of allowing the audience to draw their own inferences from these character representations, it forced us to agree with its theories. If the characters had simply been presented in a humane way, as they initially were, this would have allowed the audience to question and conclude how they wished. Instead, at the end of the piece, we were expressly told that there was a God, and that everyone deserved forgiveness. This took away my agency as an audience member, and I resented the removal of my freedom to make my own decisions based on the material presented.

The bottom line: Despite some flaws with the script and a fairly blatant suggestion of what to take away from the issues presented, Savell’s performance was brilliant in a very difficult role. See this production if you want some excellent acting surrounding a relevant issue – just be prepared for some preaching.

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.

Review: Theater Schmeater’s Attack of the Killer Murder of Death

by Mary Hubert

In a vacuum, I’m drawn to cutting-edge productions. I want to see art that makes me think, theater that pushes the boundaries of acceptability, dance that calls into question what is and isn’t movement. Often, I go to the theater to learn, to think about current events, and most of all to find new methods of creating.

Theater Schmeater’s first production in their new space, Attack of the Killer Murder… of Death! did none of this whatsoever.

And yet, I loved it.

The play, written by Wayne Rawley, takes place in an old haunted mansion where a bunch of small-time actors with big-time personalities struggle to produce a truly terrible B-movie horror flick. When their diva dies suddenly and suspiciously, accusations fly and murders abound as the inept performers and crew try desperately to discern who the murderer might be.

I spoke to Wayne before seeing the show, and he said the B movie musical had inspired the world of the play. The play, originally commissioned by Seattle Public Theater in 2014 for a youth ensemble, is, in Wayne’s words, a satirical take on the average not-so-well-written murder mystery. The main challenge, he said, was to create a play that was satisfying within its genre while simultaneously poking fun at it. Remarkably comfortable with directing his own work, he told me that for him, “Directing… is an extension of the writing process”. The backbone of the play, he said, is remarkably simple: It is the search for the truth. The characters, the actors, the audience, the plot – all search for the truth. The goal of the play? To have fun.

He hit the nail on the head.

Although it didn’t change my worldview or radically alter my perceptions of theater, the hilarious writing and mostly competent cast constructed a deliciously irreverent romp through a campy tale of murder, romance, and big personalities set against the backdrop of 1950s movie culture. I laughed. I snorted. And the script capered along through each of its zippy 40 minute acts with so many tricks, turns, and witty one-liners (“What can I say? I’m a sociopath! We don’t always use good judgment!”) that I was right there with Wayne the entire time.

Where the play fell flat was in the acting. Perhaps because of its original cast of high schoolers, the script was written in a way that didn’t require acting gymnastics. Even so, the performances at times felt flat. Even in a campy tale, characters must believe themselves, must be completely invested in their actions. This is where the humor lies. Often, the actors seemed intent on playing the stereotypes that their characters were, instead of playing characters in earnest that just happened to be stereotypes. After all, what diva knows that she is a diva? Though the characters were caricatures, the actors still needed some moments of truth that were lacking.

Despite this, the play zinged along with entertaining rapidity, and I found myself invested in the “Who’dun’it” aspect while laughing out loud at the silly scenarios in each of the three rapid-fire acts. Theater Schmeater lived up to their irreverent reputation – I’m looking forward to their next silly endeavor, especially if Wayne is at the helm.

The bottom line: Schmeater’s newest production is an enjoyable, frivolous romp through an already entertaining genre. Only slightly bogged down by mediocre acting, this show is worth seeing if you’re looking for a mindless guffaw on a summer night. Check it out!

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.

Antique Critique: Why You Should Have Seen The Films Of Miranda July


by Mary Hubert

Date: Circa Summer of 2006

What You More Than Likely Forced Upon Your Optic Nerves at Your Local Multiplex: Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (Your eyes curse you as putrid vermin to this very day!)

What You Should Have Seen: The Films of Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know and The Future)


At home on a weekday evening with nothing to do? Feel like immersing yourself in a quirky film or two? That’s what I ended up doing this week with Miranda July’s films, which she manages to not only write and direct, but also star in. Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I turned on the TV with relatively low expectations. As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised.

Me and You and Everyone We Know, July’s earlier work, features weird characters that don’t quite know how to handle themselves within their humdrum lives. These endearing deadbeats stem from July’s oddball sensibility of what people are like – each character is thought out with detail, complete with ticks, weird habits, and unintentional little idiosyncrasies. The theme is one of connections between people, which is reflected in the title. Every character, no matter how seemingly unrelated or tangential, is connected in some way – often whimsical, sometimes dark, maybe sexual, always entertaining.

The Future, a slice-of-life look into a mid-30s couple’s failing relationship and their impulsive decision to adopt a dying cat, is much darker – a counter to MAYAEWK’s shiny romanticism. The whimsy is there, but it is a darker whimsy. Breaks from reality run rampant, as the characters’ safe lives slowly disintegrate, and there is a certain dream-like quality as they navigate their new disintegrated world – only, finally, to return to reality when there is no other choice.

In both, July’s brand comes through with a punch. Awkward silences, punctuated by still-more awkward comments from the characters she plays, make us laugh and cringe simultaneously. The idea of taking an idea, a phrase, a word and running with it to the point where it is absurd is heavily utilized. In both flicks, July’s character struggles to prove herself artistically – with mixed results. And in both, mediocrity is celebrated, though the characters don’t share in this acceptance of their imperfections.

July paints pictures of slightly sad yet redeeming romantic relationships, of insightful children and childish adults, of tangents and puzzles that eventually resolve – or don’t. The primary difference? While MAYAEWK deals gleefully with a plethora of individuals, The Future dives into the demons kept by one isolated, floundering couple. Both stories, however, are mesmerizing.

The bottom line: July’s work – like July herself – is rather beautiful in all its glorious eccentricity. The Future is the nightmare counterpart to Me and You and Everyone We Knows lovely dream. Hilarious, dark and absurd, both are worthwhile – check ‘em out!

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.

Review of Wayne Horvitz’s 55: Music and Dance in Concrete

by Mary Hubert

concrete2Disjointed electronic music wafting out of large speakers on a crowded stage fills the air of the tiny Royal Room in Columbia City. The small venue is filled with patrons who all crane their necks to see three beautiful young women, moving in synchrony and doing… something… that I can’t quite see. They finish their bit and begin to walk with measured steps behind the stage.

All of a sudden, the conductor, a middle-aged roundish man with glasses and a hat, jerks imperiously toward the trumpet, soprano sax, and trombone in quick succession, 1, 2, 3! The air is suddenly alive with sound. Master musicians play over the computer’s soundtrack as the conductor (and now, I realize, the composer as well) commands them to play when and how he wants, all the while selecting tracks on the laptop in front of him. He raises and lowers his hands, gesturing as if to paint a picture of the sounds that emanate from these master musicians’ instruments. His grotesque facial expressions coax sounds out of each member of the company in such a way that they layer on top of each other, haunting, jarring, and yet a perfect fit.

And all the while, the three women move, doing God-knows-what around the very crowded little Royal Room in Columbia City as film projects across the walls.

This spectacle marked the release of 55: Music and Dance in Concrete, an ambitious piece created by Wayne Horvitz and three others. Designed to highlight the unique visual and acoustic elements of chosen sites, the piece is grounded by an electronic score, comprised of fragments from 55 composed short motifs for chamber music, and 55 pieces from various invited improvisers. Now that this work has been completed, Horvitz, the composer, gathered with a select few musicians and Pendleton House, a Seattle-based group of young artists, to show off a bit of his vision.

He didn’t disappoint.

Improvised, wacky, at times discordant, the music was above all one thing: spectacular. Live music transitioned seamlessly from electronic, as Horvitz connected with the musicians on a level I haven’t seen before. He would gesture to start them, to stop them, even to illustrate what sound to make.

The three layers of music – electronic, chamber music, and improvisation – fit together in a strangely perfect way. At times, it created a chilling non-music, reminiscent of a dying circus – though uncomfortable at times, it would eventually swell into an epic release of musicality that placed the audience at ease. The musicians were virtuosos, able to follow Horvitz’s strange gestures and expressions with ease. Particularly impressive was the soprano saxophone player, a young woman with bare feet that curled whenever she hit an impossibly high note. Her expression was one of delight as she jammed, jived and riffed over the top of the rest of the musicians with evident mastery of her craft.

The live music would fade occasionally as the three ladies of Pendleton House would begin to move again, creating a call-and-response between the musicians and movers which added to the flow of the piece. And all the while, subtle projections on the back and side walls add to the experience, continuing to tell us story after story in conjunction with the music and movement.

My only complaint was the choice of venue. Crowded and tiny, it made it extremely difficult to see Pendleton House. As a matter of fact, I only got to watch one movement piece in entirety. Though Pendleton House’s work – from what I could see – was interesting, the lack of visibility to what exactly they were doing made me anxious about not seeing them rather than excited by their work. Despite this issue, the work carried through, and I found myself being completely swept away by the bravery and talent of the art made in that little room. I’m already impatient to see – or hear – what Horvitz does next.

The Bottom Line: See this, wherever it goes next, or buy the vinyl – the music alone is incredible, and it is a piece worth listening to.

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.

Homegrown Seattle Film Producer Ramon Isao

by Mary Hubert

RamonProducing a film seems like rather a nebulous task. We have the director, who directs, the actors, who act, the designers, who create the world of the piece, and the writer, who writes the thing. But what does a producer do, exactly? He is the forerunner, the organizer, the person who makes the thing happen. And Ramon Isao, an up-and-coming writer/producer in the Seattle film scene, certainly fits that mold.  The energetic, talkative, and charismatic young artist is set to do his third feature this summer, Dead Body, a slasher-meets-mystery flick sporting a cast and crew of young up-and-coming Seattleites and shot in a cabin a few miles out of town.

When I asked Ramon how long he’s been writing, he said, “I’ve always written, even as a kid. I started out with fiction, but 8 years ago, my buddy Kevin asked me to help rewrite a movie called Zombies of Mass Destruction”. A completely new experience for Ramon, he jumped on the chance, and the two were able to produce the feature amidst positive reviews.

Then, along came Junk – a film he described as “A raunchy, evil comedy – the work that I’ve decided my parents never need to see”. In addition to co-producing and co-writing, he co-starred in this one, playing a character that he put as “disturbingly like myself”. Ramon said that learning to act in this type of role changed everything for him as a writer and producer. He exclaimed, “I gained a newfound appreciation for what actors did!”

Fresh from these two successes, he has jumped headlong into co-writing and co-producing – along with co-conspirator Ian Bell – a combination slasher and mystery flick called Dead Body. Seen it a million times? That’s what I thought. When I asked him why this movie was so special, he pointed out the never-done combination of slasher and mystery. Turns out, it’s hard to do – Isao has worked with Ian for months to crack the formula, involving high school kids, a game gone wrong, mystery, death, and campiness all bundled into one delicious little flick. With it, he’s interested in “combining the humor and the absurd with violence”.

Believe it or not, though, the new genre isn’t what Ramon is most excited about. He spent most of his time gushing about the talented group of young Seattleites working on the film. Ramon said he was “dead lucky to score” the cast and crew. As Ramon put it, “Every single one of these people is super talented – I’m mostly just excited to show off to everyone that I landed all of these awesome collaborators!” Almost as exciting for Ramon is that he can do a film in his hometown, with people in his hometown, about an area in his hometown. His goal with this group is to build a community of Seattleites to make art with, project after project.

Upon asking him what a Seattle layperson should do to get involved with Dead Body: He laughed, and said, “Come to us! Email me at dbfilm2014@gmail.com if you want to be a PA throughout August – you’ll get some food and experience, and get to kick it with some kickass artists!” You can also check out their Kickstarter to donate – cool perks include a Halloween party with the cast and free tickets to see the movie at one of the festivals it will be circulating at (Ramon is shooting for horror festivals and SIFF, to name two).

His response to my query of how to get into film in general? Get out there and do it! “It’s easy!” he said, and immediately laughed. “No, I’m lying. It’s fucking hard. But you just have to go do it. Start making things! You gotta make the bad shit to get to the good shit”. So, you heard him, would-be film guys. Start making movies, even if they’re terrible. Get out there with your camera and shoot shit – you never know when you’ll get your break. And stay tuned for more on Dead Body – I expect we’ll be seeing more about it soon.

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.

South Seattle Goes To SIFF: Review of Obama Mama

Editor’s Note: The Emerald was extended an invitation to cover the Seattle International Film Festival. As our arts reportage serves the dual purpose of showcasing the amazing array of artist and their projects, who reside within the South Seattle area, and also to draw attention to unique artistic works which are rarely highlighted elsewhere, yet have the potential to be enriching cultural experiences for our readers, The Emerald accepted the opportunity to cover a few select films playing at the festival which we felt would be of particular interest to our readership.

by Mary Hubert

The opening of Obama Mama began with a black and white picture of Stanley Ann Dunham amidst audio recordings of people lauding her intelligence and spirit. As the video progressed, I realized immediately that this was going to constitute the bulk of the film. The first hour of the film consisted entirely of interviews with Dunham’s old classmates, recounting how smart, curious and progressive she was through a combination of anecdotes and a very, very extensive history of the civil rights movement. Though the film did an adequate job of beating into the audience that Dunham was, for being born and raised primarily in Texas, progressive and a mental force to be reckoned with, as an audience member I felt inclined to announce, “Okay, I got it!”

The history of the 1950s-1970s, as well as interviews with the same five high school classmates, was repeated ad nauseum, and I found myself wondering whether the director had placed any faith in her audience that they had knowledge of basic history. The persistent repetition of basic facts was drilled into our brains still more thoroughly through the use of short animated sequences to further clarify the points being made. For example, a drawing of a black and a white hand joining to create a cartoon baby was used when an interviewee spoke of Dunham and Barack Obama Sr.’s marriage. The combination of illustration, repetitive interviews, and historical facts succeeded in creating a strong picture of who Dunham was as a young woman, but the information that was relayed could have been achieved in half the time that the movie utilized.

Some of the most interesting aspects of the film centered on Dunham’s work campaigning for the rights of Indonesian female laborers. Though the film did effectively detail this it was again with the over-thoroughness that made me uninterested by the time this chapter was over. As a result, we didn’t get to her life’s work until over an hour into the film. This had the effect of boring me enough that I was much less invested in Dunham’s fascinating work in Indonesia than I ordinarily would have been. That being said, the section of the film dealing with her work in Indonesia was the strongest aspect of the piece, mostly due to the stand alone strength of her labor. The Indonesian culture that was detailed in the film was additionally fascinating, but again had little to do with Dunham and felt once more like a history lesson.

Ultimately, the film felt as if the director did not have enough material to fill an entire 90 minute SIFF piece, so instead of shortening the work, she simply dragged out each section to fill the time. This was even apparent in the vagueness of the interview candidates – many of their points centered on speculating what Dunham “would have done” or “would have liked”, as if they did not know her in the slightest – and in fact, many did not. Additionally, they used the same five photographs of her, as if they did not have any others. Although the film made a bold choice in not involving Obama in its production – it focused on Dunham’s work by itself rather than her relationship with the President – the result was a dearth of material that made what they did have too lengthy and overly sentimental. By the time the film got to Dunham’s 1995 death, rather than being saddened by the passing of a truly remarkable woman I was relieved that this would be the final montage I had to sit through before the end of the film.

The bottom line: A truly remarkable life of a wonderful woman was made boring by over-explanation, lack of information, and pointless montages that took away from, rather than added to, the uniqueness of Dunham’s life. The documentary was unsuccessful in creating a compelling story out of her life – if you’re interested in Obama’s mama, Obama Mama might not be the best source.

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion,  she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.