More than just blurring the boundaries between documentary and fiction, Roberto Minervini’s films push the concept of “hybrid film” to its limit. Minervini describes his style as “observational”; even when he stages a scene, he is “observing.”
Born in Italy, Minervini studied at the New School University in New York. He was teaching in the Philippines when his mother-in-law took ill. Minervini and his wife decided to move to Houston to be closer to her. This move is what precipitated his own journey into filming life on the edge in the American South.
His first film The Passage (2011)focuses on three characters from vastly different backgrounds on a chance road trip across west Texas. This first feature shows Minervini experimenting with the docs-fiction format by mixing professional and non-professional actors. Ana (Soledad St. Hilaire), a middle-aged woman living alone in a border town, is told she has terminal cancer. With a few weeks to live, she asks new acquaintance—and ex-con—Jack (Mean Gene Kelton) to drive her to a faith healer in Marfa, Texas. While on the road they are joined by friendly British artist Harold (Alan Lyddiard). The trio has little in common; however, the time spent together brings them closer than expected. The result is a quiet yet poignant look at life, the connections made along way, and dealing with loss — in this case death. A very strong first feature.
His follow-up Low Tide (2012) pushes this experiment further in its portrait of a young boy, Daniel (Daniel Blanchard), with a largely absent mother struggling to fend for himself in a poor rural town. Minervini follows him on his “rounds” from the nursing home where his mother works to a slaughterhouse, but also to the river to catch frogs and fish. Minervini does not hide the hardships of Daniel’s life, nor does he obscure the fact Daniel is 12 years old. Points of fragility in daily life even at a young age, make this film also outstanding and memorable.
Minervini completed his “Texas Trilogy” with Stop the Pounding Heart (2013), in which he immerses himself in the daily lives of a Christian fundamentalist family as he portrays the spiritual struggles of the family’s teenage daughter, Sara (Sara Carlson). This family of goat farmers appeared briefly in The Passage, and have become the focal point in this film. Set in a rural community that has remained isolated from technological advances and lifestyle influence. The film follows Sara and Colby, two 14-year-olds with vastly different backgrounds who are drawn to each other. In Minervini’s intimate filming style, Sara’s commitment to her faith is never questioned. His nonintrusive style shows Sara’s spiritual and emotional inner turmoil about her place in a faith, which expects women to be subservient to their fathers before becoming their husbands’ helpers. This honest portrayal of the Texas Bible Belt allows Minervini to show humanity and complexity behind the usual stereotypes.
What is essential in Minervini’s approach is his sensibility to observe life as it gradually unfolds, rather than just as a series of events. Patience is required from the viewer. Plenty is said without using words in these films. Subtlety, curiosity and a sense of respect for his fellow humans create a space of safety for the subjects in Minervini’s trilogy of films. The result is one of the more memorable experiences in “hybrid film” that one can encounter.
Minervini’s “Texas Trilogy” runs today, Saturday June 11th and Sunday, June 12th, at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
- Genre: docs-fiction, documentary, hybrid film
- Directed by: Roberto Minervini
Comments are closed.