“BROTHERS” a Documentary Film by Jack Ballo Premiering at Indie Film Festival Red Bank on July 30. A REVIEW by Calvin Schwartz July 22, 2017
I especially like Friday afternoon’s synchronicity, usually arriving unannounced and unexpected. A long story but I was emailing (chatting) back and forth with a very accomplished film director in Edinburgh, Scotland today. One of our points of commonality was Charles Dickens and his haunting social consciousness and foresight. When Dickens wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’ in 1843, he told of a boy who represented ignorance and a girl, want. Beware of the boy. The problems of 1843 are still here today but magnified beyond comprehension. Nothing has changed.
Then, minutes after chatting with the director in Scotland, another director, much closer to my Jersey home, emailed me and asked if I’d watch his new documentary, “Brothers” which is entered in next week’s Indie Film Festival in Red Bank. Without hesitation, I responded to Jack Ballo from Ultravision Films that I’m thrilled to watch and review. The key for me is Jack Ballo’s past deep introspective work with social consciousness in our modern changing world. Jack’s earlier film, ‘Destiny’s Bridge’ a riveting documentary, dealt with his spending two years filming in Tent City, Lakewood, New Jersey, where up to 112 people lived in tents without heat, water, light, empathy for up to 10 years. They were homeless for all kinds of reasons and there was no place for them here in New Jersey.
I met Jack Ballo back in Tent City and learned about homelessness 22 miles from my comfortable suburban Monmouth County home. After seeing Jack’s film, “Destiny’s Bridge’ (which you all should see) and my personal experiences in Tent City, I was changed forever. Something happened with my soul. Jack Ballo is replete with soul, caring, pro activity and a rare, precious beautiful conscience for fellow humans. He doesn’t scream injustice and human suffering and need; he makes wondrous emotional films, innovative and provocative.
Now Jack is back with another documentary, “Brothers” which I just watched and I’ll watch again tomorrow afternoon and again because I have to. Tender is this film about two brothers, whom Jack grew up with in Sayreville, New Jersey and were now living in the woods in their home town.
Here is the must-see innovation of Jack’s journey. He visited them in the woods once a month for two years in their small encampment, a few pitched tents, clothes lines, rain water capturing sheet, solar cells for battery power and a parked bike for transportation to a local food market’s dumpster for discarded sandwiches. Yes, they were brothers who spent their inheritance on alcohol and had nowhere to go for four years. Jack filmed them only with this iPhone. The quality of the picture is outstanding as is his eye for detail and humanism.
It was fascinating special film-making to witness the quick, seamless change of seasons. Indeed quick, the film is 34 minutes, but almost endless, in its draining emotion. Jack captured essences of homeless life tenderly; a scene of a brother combing his hair looking into a piece of broken mirror on a tree; the life cycle of a tomato plant until a basket of freshly picked Jersey tomatoes; descriptions of being warm in a tent, under a quilt in two-degree temperature; a brother unveiling his Sayreville High School diploma from 1979, with a small colony of ants dancing on the parchment and a quick shot of a toilet commode. Stark realism. No punches pulled although there was a curious punching bag in several scenes.
Jack gently asked questions, the brothers Mark and Steve did most of the talking. At times, there was eerie silence in the woods. What I enjoy about his film making is stark symbolism and curious sights like a jet plane overhead flying south and a year later flying north or east or west.
There is a Christmas scene and a resolution to this heartfelt film. It’s 4:10 AM (Saturday) now as I finish writing. I’m grateful for synchronicity of the day and Jack Ballo passing my way yet one more time.