January 17, 2011

Kim Longinotto's 'Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go'

Kim Longinotto's 'Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go'

This feature doc is a very quiet film but one of the most beautiful, moving and masterful out there. It is, like many of Kim Longinotto's films, notable for its grace, compassion and oceanic depth. But in this particular setting, with executive producer Roger Greaf behind it, it is one of her best.

The film is set in the Mulberry Bush School in Oxford, a school of last resort for children with extreme behavioral problems. The children are given three years at this boarding school to try to turn their lives around. Endlessly patient and determined staff members verbally reason with the boys, while often having to restrain them physically. It is shocking at the start of the film to see these seemingly tiny young boys hit, kick, spit and swear so violently, lashing out at those around them for seemingly no reason and with no provocation. If you had just heard them for a few minutes on the street, it would be easy to write them off as bad or wicked kids. But as the film progresses, you start to glimpse the traumas behind their fury, to recognize their fragility and its causes.

With immaculate pacing, Longinotto and her editor, Oli Huddlestone, draw you in with a touch so light and courteous that you don't realize you're crying. Never do you feel uneasy that the children--so vulnerable and exploited in real life--are being filmed, nor do you ever feel that their treatment is anything other than supportive and vital to their survival. It is incredible to witness the life change and hope such a school can provide. It is interesting that Greaf, also a legend in the British documentary industry, was a pioneer of the observational documentary within state institutions.

It is films like this that made me want to be a filmmaker in the first place, but it was this one specifically that made me continue. At the start of 2007, I was smarting from a bad experience with a film company and had started to be disillusioned with the industry as a whole. I felt that in order to become successful, I would have to change my outlook; I would either have to become a hard-arse bitch or give up entirely.

When I attended a master class with Kim herself at the Sheffield Doc/Fest, it was the first time I had seen and heard her in person. Here was a woman at the top of her game, who had never compromised her ideals and who was utterly lovely. And it is precisely because she is such a gentle presence that she is able to make such great films. I decided that I would continue to make documentaries, but that I would do it my way. Just weeks later, I was given my initial funding for Afghan Star. And by December, I was in Kabul filming my first feature.

When Afghan Star was accepted to the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, I was over the moon. When I saw that Kim's latest film, Rough Aunties, was in the same category as mine, I was gob-smacked. One of the best things about that festival was meeting her. There was never quite the moment to tell Kim just how inspirational she is--for me and for many filmmakers in the UK--but I hope this essay rights that.

 

Havana Marking's Afghan Star won the World Cinema--Documentary Audience Award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

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