Just recently I caught up on my HBO viewing and watched two distinctly different documentaries. I watched the premiere episode of WITNESS: on HBO and upon its conclusion I went to HBOGo to catch up on the documentary I missed when Sandy came by, THE BIG PICTURE: RETHINKING DYSLEXIA. So, since I saw them back to back I decided to give my ‘gut reactions’ to each in the same manner. They are good examples of two types of documentaries seen by HBO viewers. WITNESS: gives as us an unvarnished look at a real life scenario while the other doc is a more informational piece. Both are effective and meaningful to the right people. Here are my thoughts.

Witness_JuarezOverview: In WITNESS: JUAREZ combat photographer Eros Hoagland ventures into the murder capital of the world–Juarez, Mexico–where drug violence has left over 10,000 dead. There, he captures indelible images of the violence, including a scene where three bodies are found.

Expectations: This first of four films is only 25 minutes long. So, I expect it to be a good introduction into the world of a combat photographer. I am looking for a gritty and edgy piece in the bowels of this violent Mexican city. But, this focus is not about the city and its ills; it is not a travelogue of sorts. It should be about the intense feelings and fears of the journalist as witness to the violence. Can I feel that in the 25 minutes offered? Let’s see.

HoaglandGut Reaction: Let me tell you that 25 minutes was plenty tense enough, especially the last few minutes as Hoagland walks up on a dying man. The piece offers a good balance of telling us where we are, why Hoagland chooses to be in this “Murder City” and how he deals with being there. He plants great quotes about how he is not there to interfere, but to chronicle; to explain not in depth what is happening but to show what is affecting him. And it does affect him and the viewer too.

In Conclusion: The other installments of WITNESS: are longer than this one; it is going to be, if I may use the word yet again, intense. You know, I’m not trained like Hoagland. He feels shielded by his camera, so he is not opinionated or biased by what he shows us. Yet, I feel a bit raw and unsettled by the story just by watching it on TV. The documentary pushed a button in me and it is one I want pushed again next week. 


Overview: THE BIG PICTURE: RETHINKING DYSLEXIA is directed by James Redford and features his dyslexic son Dylan as his main subject. He also dyslexia_logoincorporates testimony from some more famous persons with the disability like Richard Branson and Charles Schwab and adds expert advice along the way. As a result this 53 minute documentary throws a spotlight on the disorder and the methods used by those interviewed to deal with it.

Expectations: Dyslexia, I don’t have it and don’t know anyone who readily admits of suffering from it. I know it to be an inherited neurological defect that cripples word comprehension. This film, I assume, will paint “the big picture” and give us an exact definition of the problem and possibly highlight the medical inroads made in its treatments. In fact, I am expecting some scientific breakthrough that may have warranted the documentary at this time because the film’s title tells us to “rethink” what we know of the disability. I never thought much about it to begin with let alone rethink about it so I am ready to be educated.     

Gut Reaction: Well, I totally misread the intent of this work. The title, at least for me, was misinterpreted. The “big picture” does not imply that those of us not afflicted will understand better; it means that the dyslexics showcased here are grasping better on how to deal with the disability. Plus, the mainstream are not being asked to “rethink” anything the “rethinking” is once again by the afflicted.

Rethiking_DyslexiaTo better explain let me state that, like many disabilities, those challenged learn to over- compensate elsewhere. The blind might have more acute hearing and a person missing their arms may have better dexterity in their feet. Well, dyslexics may not comprehend the words but can exercise their brains in ways to make the situation easier. They have to train themselves to read slower or read the same thing over more than once and, eventually, make the disability easier to deal with. Some people, a few shown here have proven this healthy approach can make life easier and successful. They are now Lt. Governors, lawyers, surgeons, financial advisers, big business men and students with high honors.

In Conclusion: Simply, many people with dyslexia naturally think outside the box and see the big picture, finding alternative solutions to problems that others might not see. This documentary might just be an epiphany for those who have dyslexic family members. If positive reinforcement and hope is what you seek this film is for you.

If you haven’t seen either of these documentaries it is not too late. Check them out on HBO or HBOGo this month.


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