Steve Hoover: Almost Holy

A week ago I was in Mariupol with Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravicius, whose ”Mariupolis” made a big impression on me. And now I have returned to the city in Ukraine with American director Steve Hooper, who is here in Riga and with whom I have tutored filmmakers for the Baltic Sea Docs 2016. His film had an equally strong impact on me. And it has been a pleasure to meet the young director from Pittsburgh.

Full house in the K-Suns cinema in Riga, a long Q&A after the screening of a film, that has already had a long festival career and has been theatrically released in the USA and in the UK.

It’s an action film in the best American sense: Gennadiy Mokhnenko, a pastor in Ukraine who rehabilitates homeless children at his center, Pilgrim Republic, is a charismatic character, who is taking matters in his own hands. Who does what the authorities should do but do not do, or are not able to do because of lack of resources. He picks up kids in the streets, takes them to his place, works on getting them out of their drug addictions – or try to get them back to a normal life and/or reunited with their parents. If they are alive or if they are capable of being parents.

It is amazing how close Hoover and his crew have been able to come to the kids and youngsters. You see tragic fates, you follow some of them along the film, where Gennadiy is almost constantly in the picture. Yes, he is a hero, an amazing man, a documentary version of Bruce Willis, full of love for the victims of the social reality in this part of Ukraine that is close to the war, actually part of the war as the film demonstrates. There are touching scenes, there are scenes where you want to close your eyes, there are scenes where Gennadyi talks directly to the camera, there are images that you will not forget at the end of the film, where Gennadyi swims in the sea with the steel factory behind him, and on shore, as the director put it in the discussion after the film, makes ”a pillow” for himself in the sand.

Small objections from a critic who likes the film a lot – it is a bit too long, I felt some repetitions. It has – mostly in the beginning – a ”nervousness” in the editing and camerawork, which might have to do with the fact that Hoover jumps in time from beginning of 2000 forward and back again. Was that necessary? And the sound score, did it have to be so strong, could there have been more silent sequences? And yet, it is an action film…  

USA, 100 mins., 2015.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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