"The Other Side of the Lens" Review
"The Other Side of the Lens" is the kind of film I hate to review.
No, it has nothing to do with "The Other Side of the Lens" being a documentary. I love documentaries.
It also has nothing to do with the film's subject matter, a heartbreaking and involving subject matter that is both personal and global for the filmmaker, Reed Cowan.
"The Other Side of the Lens" is the kind of film that gets me hate mail (Okay, I actually enjoy that!). It's the kind of film where I get angry family members of the bold and brave filmmaker who write and either beg me to reconsider my review, call me an a**hole for refusing to see the film's merits or, even worse for me, they consider me nothing more than your average, "head stuck my a**" writer without a clue into the real world.
For the record, none of these things will occur.
I will not reconsider my review, though I will acknowledge already that the several days I've waited to write it due to being on one of the jurys for the Indianapolis International Film Festival where it screened has likely tempered my review from my original reaction to the film.
I am not an a** and do, in fact, see the film's merits and POTENTIALLY a really involving and impactful film.
Finally, my head is most definitely not stuck up my a**. I am a longtime activist involved in children's issues, and "The Other Side of the Lens" reminds me why I've never allowed the Tenderness Tour, my own effort, to become a documentary.
Despite writer/director Reed Cowan's greatest efforts, "The Other Side of the Lens" is a self-indulgent, pretentious film that only begins to become effective toward the end of the 102-minute film.
There is no doubt that "The Other Side of the Lens" was a humbling and revelatory experience for Cowan, who was an Emmy-award winning Salt Lake City, Utah reporter on April 23, 2006 when he was called to cover a most unfathomable story involving the accidental hanging of a child from a set of horizontal monkey bars. When Cowan arrived at the scene, the tragedy became almost unimaginable as the child involved was, in fact, his own 4-year-old son, Wesley.
Suddenly, the reporter became the story and "The Other Side of the Lens" became Cowan's therapeutic journal of grief, processing and self-liberation as Cowan works through his own role in the creation of sensationalized TV news even as he himself had become a central story line. "The Other Side of the Lens" follows Cowan through this journey, which obviously continues for the emerging humanitarian, all the way to his efforts with others to save children during Kenya's 2008 post-election violence.
The problem with "The Other Side of the Lens" is simple yet crucial to the film's success. From the film's earliest moments, Cowan contradicts his own stated desires to move away from being part of the problem to part of the solution. Early scenes in "The Other Side of the Lens" admonish Cowan's professional ambitions and call him out for his use of language and imagery designed to enhance the sensationalism of his news story and, as a result, enhance his station's ratings and his own reputation.
The problem? "The Other Side of the Lens" reinforces the sensationalism by showing examples of said sensationalism, at one point stooping to showing a driver crashing intentionally into a crowd on the street, including children. While it would have been fairly easy to excuse the use of this video once to make a point, Cowan shows this video in a back and forth, repetitive manner multiple times including, at one completely unnecessary point, in slow motion.
In other words, the news reporter within got the best of Cowan and he simply couldn't help but sensationalize his own reporting AGAINST sensationalizing.
Unfortunately, despite Cowan's seemingly sincere efforts, the news reporter never moves out of the way enough for the true story of "The Other Side of the Lens" to come to life. Even the film's closing storyline, in which Cowan has seemingly transformed himself into a burgeoning humanitarian capable of setting aside stylized sensationalism for real human drama, feels like a loosely connected dramatic story arch with no true purpose beyond, perhaps, illustrating Cowan's evolution of a man. While this would certainly be a noble illustration, without tying this conclusion with the film's original subject matter, Cowan's loss of his son and how this shapes his personal and professional life, this approach feels like yet another manipulation in a film that has too often felt unsatisfyingly and unnecessarily sensationalized.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic