[Atlanta Film Festival] Documentaries: 306 Hollywood (2017) - Reviewed

306 Hollywood screened at ATLFF

306 Hollywood (2017), a film by Elan and Jonathan Bogarin, is a deeply meditative film rich with meaning and possibilities which explores loss, memory, attachment, conservation, letting go, the meaning of objects, and the impermanence of life.

It's a documentary rooted within the context of three generations of a family that takes shape during the process of cleaning out and selling their grandmother's house. Annette Ontell's grandchildren, Elan (filmmaker) and Jonathan (archaeologist), upon their mother Marilyn’s blessing, turn their grandmother’s house into an archaeological site with a view to excavate, uncover and find meaning to her life which they beautifully film. The filmmakers juxtapose the narrative of the archaeological dig against the backstory of their grandmother, her husband and son who predeceased her, and include themselves in the documentary. They are given an eleven month timeframe to complete their work.

The filmmakers weave together many visual elements to create a compelling and insightful documentary. They use interstitial titles, the countdown of the months to complete the assignment, to structure the film. The filmmakers knit together Super 8 home movies, family photographs, taped interviews of their grandmother spanning a 10 year period, recreated scenes from their own childhood experiences from visiting their grandma's home, interviews with their mother Marilyn, voice-over narration, interviews with experts, montage editing, mise- en-scene takes, archival footage, out of focus images, dissolves, surreal images, a miniature dollhouse (a representation of 306 Hollywood), an avant-garde piece involving their grandmother's dresses, and a dramatization of a taped recording they uncover, which makes for a powerful documentary. Close ups and medium angles shots are interspersed with wide angle shots, and aerial shots and the film incorporates both day and night and interior and exterior footage shot over an extended period of time at various locations including the eternal city of Rome, Italy. The filmmakers by juxtaposing the real with the surreal have created a visually appealing and whimsical film.

Some of the most powerful images in the documentary include a representation of a silhouette of their grandmother hanging laundry outside in the backyard on a sunny day, footage of the miniature dollhouse in public spaces such as the diner, the parking lot, and grocery store referencing their former grandmother’s presence and absence, the skies of Rome swarming with black clouds of starlings, the archaeological portraits of their grandmother, grandfather, and uncle, the exterior of the house draped in the clothes of the former inhabitants, and seeing the house decluttered and empty except for Marilyn, Elan, and Jonathan.

The film includes interviews with a distinguished cast of academics and professionals who weigh in and present a multiplicity of takes and viewpoints on death, history, and conservation, which frame the documentary in a broader context. They include Alan Lightman, Physicist, Writer and MIT Professor, Boston, Jan Gadyne, Archeologist, Temple University, Rome, Bob Clark, Director of Archives, Rockefeller Archive Center, Sleepy Hollow, NY, Nicole Bloomfield, Fashion and Textile Conservator, NYC, Rita Fioravanti, Director Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome, and Sherry Anthony, Funeral Director. Here are some of my favourite lines from the documentary: “…only history that is saved exists in perpetuity…” (Bob Clarke); “… atoms floating around space right now that were your grandmother but not in the arrangement that were your grandmother … a person that you care about has a presence a meaning to you that goes beyond their material body… we can imagine a world in which there is no time only images …” (Alan Lightman).

306 Hollywood resonated with me on some many levels especially on the importance of familial relationships which the film dramatizes, and shines a light on the bonds of love that exist between parent and child and grandparent and grandchild. The documentary is a labor of love to a beloved grandmother, a means to come to terms with her passing, and a vehicle to immortalize and preserve her memory in perpetuity. It’s a fascinating documentary exploring the meaning of objects which encapsulate memories and the importance of lives lived, however, small in scale. Do see it for you won’t be disappointed. 

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-Stefan Chiarantano