of it as the less noir version of Naked
City with its eight million stories. Dave Isay founded StoryCorps in the belief
there were real life stories out there from everyday people that deserved to be
recorded for posterity. For ten years,
StoryCorps crews have collected oral histories across the country. Sometimes
the stories were funny and sometimes poignant, but their inherent drama has become
a source of constant inspiration for the Rauch Brothers. Their short animated adaptations of StoryCorps
transcripts have become staples of short film festivals and have regularly been
peppered throughout seasons of POV. Fittingly for Thanksgiving and the first day
of Hanukkah, POV will premiere its
first ever animated special, Mike & Tim Rauch’s Listening is an Act of Love (promo here) on PBS stations
a wrap-around framing device, Isay’s young nephew Benji interviews his uncle to
find out just why he does all this anyway.
He has a memorable answer that nicely establishes the theme of Listening: family. The POV
special includes four new stories, but begins and ends with two old
favorites—and it is not hard to understand why those two struck such a chord
with audiences. In the gleefully funny Miss Devine, two cousins swap memories
of the titular Sunday School teacher who was a stern, unyielding presence
during their summer vacations. Both James Ransom and Cherie Johnson are natural
storytellers and the way they crack each other up is appealingly infectious.
get more serious and more family-focused during Listening’s debuts, starting with Making It, a simple but inspiring story of the American dream. On the eve of becoming the first in his
family to go to college, Noe Rueda reflects on the difficult jobs he held to
help his single mother make ends meet.
It is probably the most touching segment of the POV segment, even if it is somewhat open-ended. The following Marking the Distance tells the story of a brain tumor survivor, who
lost her short term memory, but has since become an accomplished marathoner
thanks to the support of boyfriend. It
is a nice, feel good story, but perhaps the least distinctive of the special.
The Road Home gives Listening its greatest emotional
pop. Eddie Lanier tells his story of how
he went from being the privileged son of a prominent North Carolina mayor to a
skid row drunk, until a good Christian Samaritan took him into his home. Wider
in scope than the rest of the special, Lanier’s unabashedly redemptive story
would be perfect for a Hallmark original film.
There is also unexpected power in the twist to the tale Jackie Miller
tells her adopted son Scott in Me &
You, which has something for pro-life viewers and fans of Modern Family, alike.
Listening concludes with
an encore appearance of No More
Questions! Kay Wang was not one to suffer fools gladly, but her son Cheng
and granddaughter Chen had learned to appreciate her forceful personality. Somehow, they managed to get her to sit for a
StoryCorps session, laughing their way through her uncooperative responses that
so aptly reflected her personality. In
fact, they are probably rather glad it turned out that way in retrospect,
judging from the bittersweet postscript.
The Rauch Brothers have a real facility for
matching the expressions of their animated figures to the recorded
interviews. In fact, they have been
known to nail the likenesses and mannerisms of the speakers without having
anything to model them on, besides their spoken words. Frankly, it is always reassuring to see a
StoryCorps film in a festival’s shorts programming block, because of the Rauch
Brothers’ commitment to quality.
Recommended for post-turkey family viewing, Listening is an Act of Love airs on most PBS outlets this Thursday
night (11/28) as part of the current season of POV.
Labels: Animated films, POV, Rauch Brothers, StoryCorps