Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor? **** (2018)

Won't You Be My Neighbor tells the story of Fred Rogers. His long running TV show on PBS Mr. Roger's Neighborhood was a place where children could feel safe from the trials and tribulations of their young lives. Rogers was an ordained minister for the Presbyterian Church who believed television could create a community. In 1969, he testified before the Senate and won funding for PBS as the Nixon administration about to slash their budget. Despite the coarsening of pop culture in the decades that followed, the documentary illuminates the gaping hole left in pop culture since Rogers left the scene.

Mr. Rogers passed away in 2003, but his legacy lives on. Family and co-workers share their moving and sometimes hilarious stories of Rogers, a man aware of his square image, yet kept a sense of humor about it. His show took on the hard questions of his time and helped children make sense of them. Episodes deal with divorce, political violence, intolerance, disabilities, death, but most importantly, celebrating life.

Countless recollections in the documentary, confirm Mr. Rogers was the real deal - he practiced what he preached. Much is revealed about ways he helped people, stories best left to experience while watching the movie. 

Won't You Be My Neighbor does not avoid the sad irony it's a film celebrating a voice of compassion in the current era of fear and uncertainty. In 2001, Rogers was called back to PBS to make some short films to reassure children after 9/11, a task he found overwhelming. The deterioration of discourse over the past few decades is especially tragic. Fox News ran stories that blamed Rogers for brainwashing children with notions they are "special" beings and hate groups picketed his funeral. 

In addition, Won't You Be Neighbor is a trip down memory lane with stunning archival footage of Rogers at work. The message and life of Rogers was indeed radical - in the best sense of the word. 

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