The Hottest August is documentary filmmaker Brett Story’s follow up to The Prison in Twelve Landscapes. Here, she points her camera to a few dozen more subjects. The title of this new movie evokes something apocalyptic, which is one of the subjects she eventually gets to. But not before one of her subjects prattles on about her husband’s organization skills. She shows that people live their lives, not worrying about bigger things they can’t control.
This film lets large anxieties as a subtext while pushing individuals’ thoughts in the foreground. And the fact that this doc reminds me more of a mosaic reveals Story’s Canadian streak. The American catchphrase for diversity is a melting pot, in which these people should think uniformly. But they don’t here. She carefully chooses people from different boroughs and cultural backgrounds. This is a much better approach than choosing one subculture to define New York.
People disappear and reappear, which is an interesting way to depict the city that never sleeps. The “hottest” in the title is actually about the racial tension that eventually unfolds. The conversation eventually gets to that. There’s a subtext of these people opening up to her which they wouldn’t with strangers of a different race. It’s equally valid, then, to question the passivity and productivity of waiting for people to say terrible things on camera.
Thankfully, Story has enough interviews that the good ones balance out the bad. It also heads to another inevitability, that she’ll shape these interviews and create a context for them, which she does without making it too obvious or preachy. She shows these people waking up to the bigger factors that are changing their lives. It builds up to a slow forward momentum. And a hope that these awakenings lead to action and perseverance.