Feature film review
Written by: Jamarcus Newton | Directed by: Jamarcus Newton | Genre: Doc | Length: 78 minutes
"A welcome change from the cold as ice scientific methods and documentaries out there.
Sickle-cell disease. An affliction that is not nearly known to the public as it should be. The easiest description? It's a blood disease affecting the haemoglobin, which carry oxygen through the blood, changing the shape of them. The characteristics are horrifying when you consider symptoms start shortly after birth, and continue until death. Pain, swelling, infections and even stroke. Not something to be taken lightly - yet painfully under talked about unless you, or someone you love is afflicted. Just to put it out there? There is no cure. Only treatment of the symptoms. If nothing else, "The Jamarcus Newton Sickle Cell Documentary" aka "Heart Beats & Sickle Cell" serves as a sounding and information session designed to raise awareness, and perhaps even hope for those living with the disease, and the masses who have no idea what it is. I personally can't even imagine what living with this would be like. Like your own body revolting against you. After watching this doc, I am truly shocked this isn't a disease I had heard about. I'm assuming that's the point.
What's interesting about this title is the use of spiritual elements co-existing with science, and that reality styled documentary experience many of us are used to seeing. It's highly visible from the start straight through until the end, wrapping up with a lengthy prayer session. And again - why not? In this day and age it's a wonder this technique isn't used more often? Even the most hard core atheist would agree that faith, can have a massive healing effect. Especially mentally. After watching this film, I find it curious that medically inclined documentaries usually steer clear. I should note that even if you don't believe, there is a wealth of information here; and for me, information is entertainment. Information is empathy. Information is power. It's the gear that turns society for the believers and non believers alike. I guess my point is this. If you are a spiritual person, there is just as much to see with this documentary as there is if you are not - and I think the inclusion of the church was a great idea. A welcome change from the cold as ice scientific methods and documentaries out there.
If you are literally looking for information, or simply wanting to learn something new about a horrible disease, this film is definitely worth seeing. If you want to learn a thing or two about the character of a person, living with a painful illness and the strength it takes to smile... this is for you. The next section of this critique is geared to the production elements of this film. So if you're just a casual viewer, you should stop reading here. It's the technical elements that slightly hinder this film. So if that's of no importance... just skip to the end and find the links to this title.
Let me write a little about length. Especially with low budget titles. This is an ever important aspect when creating a film. How long can a movie keep it's viewers interested? How long should it? I hate to say it, but "The Jamarcus Newton Sickle Cell Documentary" felt incredibly long winded. Clocking in at under an hour and a half, it wasn't the run time that did it. It was the content. Literally, the prayer at the end was over twenty minutes. That's longer than some actual church sermons I've attended! Think about it. This is a film. We can talk about information. We can talk about spirituality. We can talk about whatever the film needs... but one fact remains. This is a film. A film is meant to entertain and inform. A 20+ minute prayer is not the way to go. Even the most powerful speakers in the world know this. Aside from that, there is a lot of bloat here. The interviews were long winded between cuts, almost to the point of sleep inducing at times. And this is not the fault of the people being interviewed. They had something worth saying, and said it excellently. But most documentaries switch back and forth, all the time. To keep the interest level high. Not so much here. And, during the interviews that did have more than one angle, nothing seems to have been done to mix the picture. No color correcting or even audio blending.
The core issues technically, were literally caused by lack of experience I feel. Not knowing what to cut. Ugly fonts. You name it. This movie could have been done in 30 minutes or under. The same wealth of information would still be present, but Jamarcus Newton would have really had to cut what wasn't needed. Long pauses. Repeated answers. To get an idea of the novice mistakes made in this feature, I point to a scene filmed during a rally. After the interview, us viewers get to see the folks in attendance dancing and parading. This is preceded by huge graphics stating the music had been changed for copyright reasons. The question? Why state that at all? Just show the footage with your original track. No need for a bold statement exclaiming this is a low budget film.
Bottom line? If it doesn't need to be there... cut it. If it doesn't progress the film... cut it. At least attempt to level the brightness and contrast when using multiple shots. Don't allow an extra 2 or 3 minutes for an interviewee, to promote their social status and media accounts. Do that at the end, during the credits - but if you do... at least edit it so it's not so long, and so the person gets it all out in a reasonable amount of time. Pick your graphics wisely and maintain them throughout the film. Different and dated fonts throughout the same film scream indie. And lastly... if you can't make the hard choices yourself... hire an editor. If you can't afford one? You're still better off getting a friend, who is not involved in making the film, to help out. It's all about flow and pacing.
I'm not being overly critical to be mean spirited. All in all, this was a decent documentary. I did learn a lot, and did get an inkling of the pain the those who suffer endure. I truly believe Jamarcus Newton has a gift for this kind of thing, he just need to hone the craft and get experience. Nowhere have I stated anything negative - without writing why. Live and learn. Right? The truth is I've seen truly bad movies from people with 6 or 7 films under their belt. In the grand scheme of things, "Heart Beats & Sickle Cell" fares much... much better. This was a decent documentary. It just wasn't spectacular.
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