Rob Edelman: Inspirational Documentaries

Jun 18, 2018

So many documentaries explore serious subjects. These docs are downbeat if not downright depressing and, given their subjects, they very well should be. But other documentaries focus on individuals whose life stories are inspirational. They are role models, genuine heroes and heroines, individuals who deserve endless praise. Three current documentaries chart the lives of three unique individuals. They are Fred Rogers, Pope Francis, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and their titles are respectively WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, POPE FRANCIS: A MAN OF HIS WORD, and RBG. Each is well-worth seeing. Each refreshingly offers an enlightening, full-bodied portrait of its subject, and how each came to be much more than a famous name. And the bottom line is: You do not have to be Catholic, or a youngster, or a woman, to savor POPE FRANCIS..., WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, and RBG.

Take for example RBG, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The film is loaded with footage that focuses on Ginsburg’s life and times, from her 1993 Supreme Court confirmation hearing to interviews with family members and old friends and the various cases she tackled both as a lawyer and Supreme Court justice. RBG spotlights Ginsburg’s struggles as a woman who became a lawyer in a pre-feminist culture. These days, it has become fashionable among forward-thinking women to trash any male, just for being male. For this, we can thank Donald Trump. But RGB offers a full-bodied portrait of Ruth’s husband, Marty Ginsburg: a loving and devoted mate who supported her totally throughout their half-century-plus marriage.     

Another highlight centers on contemporary young people who put forth respect and admiration for an 80-plus-year-old woman. Here, the age differences simply melt away. How invigorating! And also, RBG details the close friendship of two justices who, politically speaking, are polar opposites. They are Ginsburg, a liberal, and Antonin Scalia, her conservative counterpart. Despite their differences, they share a sense of humor, a love of opera, and a bond that transcends politics. One only can observe that, in this era of shameless partisan backbiting as well as gender gaps that are as wide as oceans, one only wishes that there were more such connections between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, senior citizens and their great-grandchildren. As one watches RBG, as well as WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? and POPE FRANCIS: A MAN OF HIS WORD, one only can smile broadly. It is such a pleasure to spend some time in the company of Fred Rogers, Pope Francis, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg!

Rob Edelman teaches film history courses at the University at Albany. He has contributed to many arts and baseball-related publications; his latest book, which he co-edited, is From Spring Training To Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

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