At least August is still reliably ablaze.” – Brett Story

After premiering at numerous festivals around the world, such as Camden International Film Festival, Milwaukee Film Festival; and winning a special mention award at Dokufest International Documentary and Short Film Festival, for “crafting a delicate portrait of a city in a given moment, offering a shared feeling of uncertainty and threat arising from the climate crisis.“, Brett Story‘s The Hottest August is ready for its Australian premiere here in Sydney, at Antenna.

The first thing I noticed, was Troy Herion‘s haunting score companying Story’s aesthetic lens on New York City. We see houses and streets from different point of views and multiple corners of the city. The director roams the streets asking random people from contrasting backgrounds, ethnicities, age or gender, one (not so) simple question: “What are your hopes for the future?”. This all takes place during the month of August in 2017. A country completely divided since the election of a new president, The Hottest August looks back at society and dares to discuss some more controversial topics. Controversial in New York City, that is.

Global warming is one of the topics Story discusses with a middle aged Zumba-instructor, who believes fitness is about being healthy and how important it is to give your heart a bit of a workout. Many disparate opinions, that didn’t necessarily connect with me. These are normal middle class people, just like you and me, who I’d probably have a normal conversation with in real life, yet nothing being said is particularly memorable. The entire documentary loses momentum after a few guests have been asked similar questions. There are some standouts, such as a lady at the beach, once a property manager now a school bus driver. Every viewer will connect with another person being questioned, though we always stay on the surface of these people’s concerns. A missed opportunity, if you ask me.

Derek Howard‘s cinematography works wonders on the entire film, capturing the tranquility and commotion of The Big Apple. But just like a feature film, a documentary should have some sort of narrative to build up towards a bigger picture and ending. Brett Story focuses too much on making sure she documents as many individuals who are willing to talk to her, than actually finding those who are in ways captivating and linger in your mind, even after you walk out of the cinema. Nothing is sadder than feeling as if you’ve just wasted your time.

The Hottest August is somehow poetic, with the right amount of melancholia and longing for a better future. The economic crisis and relationship between the people and politics always linger in the background, yet it feels like these individuals are defeated by those particular problems in today’s world. Brett Story’s film lacks direction, seemingly wanting to make this spellbinding. Confronting what we now call ‘The New Normal’, The Hottest August never reaches out far enough to become more than a modern art installation at your local gallery.

The Hottest August is screening as part of Antenna Documentary Film Festival. Tickets are available for the following dates:

  • 18 Oct. – 6:45 PM at Palace Verona, Sydney
  • 26 Oct. – 4 PM at Dendy Newtown, Sydney

Buy your tickets at https://tix.antennafestival.org/Events/The-Hottest-August/Fri-Oct-18-2019-18-45

Antenna Documentary Film Festival Review – ‘The Hottest August’

Reviewed at Antenna Documentary Film Festival (screener provided by publicity team), Sydney, Oct. 7, 2019. CBA Rating: TBC. Running time: 94 min.

PRODUCTION: A Grashopper Film release of a Oh Ratface Films, Walking Productions production. Producers: Brett Story, Danielle Varga. Executive producers: Sally Jo Fifer, Maida Lynn, Lois Vossen.

CREW: Director: Brett Story. Camera (color, widescreen): Derek Howard. Editor: Nels Bangerter. Music: Troy Herion.

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