Dir/prod/cine:Mark SWexler. US. 2004. 95mins
A son's search for hisfather, even a famous one, might appear to be too narrow a theme for atheatrical documentary were it not for the recent success of theOscar-nominated feature My Architect.
Tell Them Who You Are, which has been shortlisted for Best DocumentaryFeature for this season, takes the gloves off, as Mark S Wexler proves willingto be the punching bag for his two-time Oscar winning father, thecinematographer Haskell Wexler.
While the film meets theminimum needs of a profile film and has the cache of famous folks bearingwitness, it is substantively a journey of personal discovery that translatesacross cultures and should play well in the theatrical niches of mainstreammarkets. Thinkfilm releases the film in Los Angles and New York on April 15.
Wexler Sr was recently namedone of the 10 most influential American cinematographers in a poll of cameramenand his 40-year resume (America, America, In The Heat Of The Night,Bound For Glory, Days Of Heaven, American Graffiti, SecretOf Roan Inish) is testament to a career of innovation, particularly in hisuse of natural light. He has also directed features, documentaries andcommercials and has been a firebrand for left-wing causes. And he's famous forbeing "difficult."
From the film's openingframes there's every indication he will wrest control of the film as he barksorders to his videographer about camera placement and intent. It also quicklyestablishes his facility with the language of film, his genius and impatience.
Archival material revealshis troubled relationship with a father who made a fortune from electronics.But whereas Haskell pursued a radically different career path, Mark followed inhis father's footsteps and his need for acceptance borders on masochism. Therift is also accentuated by Mark's conservative politics.
Despite his outwardchilliness, there are glimmers of Haskell's warmth toward his son. He enjoinshim to film a segment with Julia Roberts for a documentary and says "good job"with a warm grin at its conclusion. And an aside to Jane Fonda conveys hisguilt and frustration for not being a more attentive and supportive father.Fonda - who obviously understands the trials of being the spawn of a famousparent - is most insightful and sympathetic about a generation of men unable toshow emotion.
It is also clearly observedwhen the two men visit Mark's mother, afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, in anursing home and Haskell tries vainly to rekindle an old memory.
Mark Wexler wanted TellThem Who You Are to be a bonding experience. That might come in time but adialogue and mutual appreciation has been started and that's a potent message.
Prod co: Wexler's World
Int'l sales: Cinetic Media
US dist: Thinkfilm
Ed: Robert DeMaio
Sound: Michael Kowalski
Main cast: Haskell Wexler, Mark SWexler, Billy Crystal, Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda, Conrad Hall, NormanJewison, Albert Maysles, Julia Roberts