A Necessary Death

A Necessary Death

A Necessary Death (2008, Director: Daniel Stamm): This was the last of the screen­ers I was sent for films show­ing at SXSW this year, and to be per­fectly hon­est, I wasn’t look­ing for­ward to watch­ing it. In fact, I’d been put­ting it off for weeks. Here’s why: the concept is that a gradu­at­ing film stu­dent chooses as his thesis pro­ject to cre­ate a doc­u­ment­ary fol­low­ing a sui­cidal per­son from their ini­tial decision to the final act of tak­ing their own life. I don’t think it will spoil the film for you if I tell you that this isn’t a real doc­u­ment­ary.

Instead, dir­ector Daniel Stamm films in a doc­u­ment­ary style as his brash stu­dent dir­ector Gilbert gath­ers his crew and starts sort­ing through responses to the auda­cious ad he’s placed in the news­pa­per: “Suicidal indi­vidual wanted for doc­u­ment­ary. Project will fol­low indi­vidual from first pre­par­a­tions to final act.” I don’t want to say too much more about plot, but I was con­sist­ently impressed and sur­prised by how unscrip­ted and nat­ural the film felt. Even after I knew it wasn’t “real” I was still tense as “the end” approached. Great per­form­ances high­light a smart script that explores many of the eth­ical issues that sur­round doc­u­ment­ary film­mak­ing. Does a film­maker have the right to manip­u­late his sub­ject? How about befriend­ing him? Is the film more import­ant than the rela­tion­ships formed? Many doc­u­ment­ari­ans struggle with these issues only after begin­ning what they think is a straight­for­ward film, and Stamm per­fectly cap­tures that sense of los­ing con­trol of the story.

Stamm can’t avoid hav­ing one of the film’s con­ceits break down early. He’s sup­posed to be a friend of doc­u­ment­arian Gilbert, but it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to film a doc­u­ment­ary about the mak­ing of a doc­u­ment­ary. Nevertheless, this con­ceit is essen­tial to por­tray Gilbert’s char­ac­ter in the fullest way. I cer­tainly didn’t feel cheated or fooled by the faux-doc approach. In fact, I was relieved that Gilbert’s auda­cious exper­i­ment wasn’t real. It didn’t lessen the impact of the film, and I’m sure I’ll take many of the ideas explored here into my cov­er­age of the Hot Docs fest­ival, which begins here in Toronto this week.

Official site for the film


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