Bullfrog Films: Our Review of ‘Town Destroyer’ on OVID

Posted in What's Streaming? by - May 15, 2024
Bullfrog Films: Our Review of ‘Town Destroyer’ on OVID

The latest wave of controversy hits a San Francisco school in Town Destroyer, bringing up everyone and their opinions. The directors and producers, Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow, make one of their first interviews be the teenagers who go to said school. One of the teenagers starts out by saying that he has no opinions towards his school’s mural. But of course, he starts stating an opinion about the mural depicting the school’s namesake, George Washington. That Washington committed genocide against Indigenous people, and that an artwork needs to reflect that painful truth. Another highschooler also declares his lack of strong opinions but that Viktor Arnautoff’s violent mural offended a friend.

The documentary adds more complexity by showing the sides of generations of American working artists, both settler and Indigenous. An art historian reminds us of what Arnautoff’s intentions were – the Russian-American used the mural to criticise Washington. On the other hand, the documentary interviews a Seneca-Cayuga professor like Jessica Young, who reminds viewers of residential schools. The mural even divides San Francisco’s Indigenous community – while some agree with Arnautoff’s intentions, it also depicts Indigenous stereotypes. Another scene depicts an elder going to a museum proving a point about art about Indigenous people. Town Destroyer shows us that most art about Indigenous people comes from settlers, so Indigenous stereotypes inadvertently bleed in.

Town Destroyer, a mid length documentary, clocks in at 52 minutes and makes the bizarre decision to stray from the mural. The museum scene does feel digressive, but then there are fascinating scenes that show parts of that institution. An exhibit at the museum called “The cult of Pocahontas” reflects the rest of its statement about Indigenous appropriation. And in fairness to the documentary, a longer version of it may have turned it into a worse one. What else was this documentary supposed to do, capture people yelling at each other about the old mural? There are segments of the viewers that I presume are waiting for that and those scenes eventually come.

Debates about statues and murals feel like they happened long ago even if they happened just before COVID was starting. Town Destroyer captures those moments, even ones that seemed like everyone agreed on what to do with the mural. A scene shows the California or the San Francisco Board of Education unanimously voting to paint over the mural. Some citizens watching the vote take place celebrate, calling it a victory for a community that doesn’t want traumatic art. But even with that unanimous vote, viewers know that the debate about murals like this isn’t over. Even if some people of colour attain powerful positions to make these decisions, compromise feels far away.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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