Monday, March 3, 2014

Bronx Obama

DAY SEVEN (continued): The next film we saw was titled Bronx Obama (pronounce it "Buh-ronx Obama). Here is a synopsis:

When Louis Ortiz shaved off his goatee one day in 2008, his life changed forever. He looked in the mirror and he didn’t see himself – a middle-aged, unemployed Puerto Rican father from the Bronx. He saw the face of change, of hope… of money. Bronx Obama tells the strange and improbable tale of a Barack Obama impersonator who tries to cash in on the “look of a lifetime” and chases a fevered American dream from opportunity to oblivion.
Filmmaker Ryan Murdock’s debut feature film has been in the making for nearly 3 years, as he intimately documented Mr. Ortiz’s transformation during Obama’s first term and the 2012 election season. The 90-minute feature documentary reveals a host of characters; a manager who pushes Louis hard to “become Obama,”  a seasoned “Bill Clinton” who dispenses advice, and a hard-working “Mitt Romney” who bets it all on his newfound career. Murdock captures unexpectedly hilarious moments along this Twilight-Zone-esque campaign trail while delving deep into the question of what it means to be someone you’re not.

This was indeed a very funny film, but it was also very thoughtful and thought-provoking, and even troubling. Louis Ortiz looks uncannily like Barack Obama, but he has no background in acting, and has a noticeable Bronx accent (in addition to being fluent in Spanish). At first, he makes a bit of money posing with people who want their pictures taken "with Barack," during the run-up to the 2008 election, or by appearing at birthday parties. But after Barack becomes President, his career as an impersonator moves into high gear. He is hired by a rather bullying impresario who wants Louis to appear before large corporate gatherings, mostly conservative Republican in make-up. This offers Louis a lot more money, especially as the 2012 campaign intensified, he is in more demand, and he even gets to meet people like the Dalai Lama. But it has a real downside too. He has to go through speech training to rid himself of his Bronx accent, he has to be on the road constantly, and when he Skypes his daughter back in the Bronx, she makes fun of him when he uses the speech he has been trained to use as "Barack." He also has to do a mock "debate" with a Mitt Romney impersonator, which is much more demanding and stressful, and he has to make jokes for the Repulican audiences which belittle Obama - someone he had come to admire and whose rhetoric has struck a deep and resonant chord within himself. When he fluffs some lines, his "boss" belittles and bullies him. Louis has a daughter whom he needs to support, and this is the best money he has ever made in his life, so he is reluctant to give it up. The film ends with Obama's re-election in 2012, and Louis on the verge of a breakdown. 
Louis "Barack" Ortiz meets the Dalai Lama
We learned from the Q&A afterward that Louis did indeed leave his bullying manager and is still  pursuing his career as an Obama impersonator, but more on his own terms. But that career has an uncertain future. However, the Mitt Romney impersonator's career came to a screeching halt with Romney's defeat, and we learned that he is now hanging sheet-rock in Mane!  What a fascinating glimpse of a world that one would hardly know otherwise! Louis is such a decent guy that you want to root for him to find his way through this maze of uncertainty over his identity. And behind everything is the dimension of what Obama's presidency means to millions of "little guys" like Louis. This was one of our favorite films. 

Given Katie Shay's interest in film-making, it is interesting to read about filmmakers and their background. Here is a bio of Ryan Murdock, director of Bronx Obama:

Ryan is a filmmaker and the creative director of Saving Daylight Productions, which creates documentary media for clients and develops original projects. His recent work has been featured in the New York Times, BBC, MSNBC, and Gawker, among others. He is also a contributor for This American Life.  He recently released his first feature length documentary, Bronx Obama. 

Before starting Saving Daylight, Ryan worked at the PBS science series NOVA, where he produced Musical Minds, a documentary about the effects of music on the brain featuring Dr. Oliver Sacks that critics called "revealing." He recorded over 300 audio interviews for StoryCorps. the NPR oral history project, and launched their podcast in 2007. His work has screened at the IFC Center, DOCNYC, the Imagine Science Film Festival and numerous live performances. Murdock’s directorial debut, Power Surge,  won Best Animation at the 2004 Flicker Film Festival. He holds a B.S. in Radio/TV/Film from Northwestern University and is a graduate of the New York Foundation for the Arts Artist Entrepreneurship Program. He is also a member of the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective. The New York Times recently said Murdock "defies categorization," which he considers a compliment. 
Bronx Obama could be coming to a theater near you in the coming months. If it does, don't miss it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment