The Hottest August (2019)

Rates: * * * *

Why Did I Watch It? On David Erhlich’s best 25 films of 2019 list.

Cast, crew, etc.

During a regular everyday August, a small film crew roams New York City, chatting to regular folk. They are lining up for welfare, lazing on the beach, cruising the city’s waterways, working on art projects, analysing the future, thinking about Hurricane Sandy, and dressing up as a make believe astronaut to raise people’s spirits.

All of them are worried.

This simple, bare bones documentary does a remarkably good job of capturing what it’s like to be alive in these modern times. Even before Coronavirus, this is a fretful era, and the catalogue of concerns recorded here provides a lot to think about.

Many of them are unflattering.

There is the older couple, semi retired, who are saddened by the number of immigrants that have moved into their neighbourhood. Or a pair of old school wiseguys at a bar, who claim that people aren’t racist, they are just tired of seeing black folks get ‘preferential treatment.’ One woman says she can’t be bothered with climate change, because she needs to focus on the here and now, not what ‘might’ happen later on.

Even the less toxic views are simply self centred; the younger people who are interviewed are worried about getting a job, finding a boyfriend, or moving out of home. And, not really to criticise any of these interviewees, these ARE important concerns in young lives.

But a point of this doco is: who’s watching the future?

It seems to explain a lot that even in a city like New York, one of the most progressive places in America, people seem totally apathetic to politics. A lot of them have a story about Hurricane Sandy, how it damaged their homes, or wrecked their businesses. Most have still not recovered, even years later. Yet none of them can connect these events to a warming planet, or support of politicians who might prevent future recurrences (except the boat captain, this movie’s MVP).

If the subjects are thinking about these issues at all, they are viewing them as too large and complex to do anything about, or just as somebody else’s problem. This film has found a subtle, minimalist way to tackle the big questions of our time, and its findings are alarming.

Also: the city looks amazing. The film makers have wandered down back alleys and cul-de-sacs, roamed the outskirts, looked in the hidden corners, and have captured a New York that is thrumming and vital, full of creative and interesting people doing their thing (my faves are the ‘afronaut’, and the woman watching a baseball game alongside a duck). It is an exciting and lively place, and the film posits that it is a shame none of this juice can, for now, be channeled to focus on our most serious problems.

But this film is also weirdly hopeful. You feel like, it might be channeled there, in future. Or, maybe I just enjoyed watching it a lot.

Minus half a star for the voice over, otherwise top notch.

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