Nana, George and Me (1998)
Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage for the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, which ran from May 1st to May 11th. For more information please visit tjff.com or follow the Toronto Jewish Film Festival on Twitter at @TJFFtweets.
This is not the first time the moral dilemma of intention vs. quality has come up here on this site for me. I highly doubt this will be the last time. I really don’t like when it has to become an issue. But it is what it is, and in the case of the documentary known as Nana, George and Me, it’s an unwatchable mess.
Perhaps Nana, George and Me would have been different Balass had gone to creative lengths to explain why he was doing this type of documentary.
Quite some time ago (which is very much evident by the look of the film) director Joe Balass decided to do something pretty unusual: he wanted to make two elderly people the subjects of different perspectives in terms of sexual discussion. The male he chose was named George, who was 73 years old at the time and very much happy about his homosexuality. The other is a 92-year-old woman who also just happens to be his nana (that’s grandmother for the rest of you). Why Balass wanted to make his own grandmother the topic of sexual history is…well as I’ve stated before it is what it is.
Perhaps Nana, George and Me would have been different Balass had gone to creative lengths to explain why he was doing this type of documentary. There will always be quirky and off-putting subject matters in documentaries, but it’s the responsibility of the filmmaker to make us care or to make it appealing enough just enough to pull us in. Balass couldn’t even do that. He casually mentions his intention, if you can even call it that, and just jumps right in. Imagine someone told you that you were going to be part of a table discussion involving the process of paint drying right before you opened the doors to enter the room. Actually, you’re opening the doors right when you hear what it is. There’s not much warning, and not enough to make us care to press forward. But the problem is, your foot is already in the room. The others are looking at you. Imagine dull eyes if you will. You’re there, and you’re stuck for what seems like an eternity. That’s Nana, George and Me.
I could say that Balass had good intentions. But after watching this…who knows what his intentions were at the time.
Ok so we’re right in this; maybe the subjects themselves can give some saving graces? You’d be half right. George is without a doubt the shining star amongst a sky filled with dreck. He’s charismatic, funny, and a great story teller. Attention was most paid when he talked. The same cannot be said for Balass’ grandmother. Now there’s no point to talk negatively of an old woman and her own stories. Maybe the stories were told better when Balass didn’t have the camera rolling. Maybe someone else should have made this.
And that brings me up to my biggest beef. If you’re going to make your own documentary, make it right. If you have limited resources, you can try to do what you can with what you’ve got…or get an editor that actually knows how to make your material relevant regardless of the platform. Balass didn’t do that. It’s awful to look at—no scratch that, it’s wretched to look at. It’s a wretched thing. The pacing is poor, the scene/content transitions are a joke that quickly becomes hard to swallow, and worst of all, it stinks of a filmmaker that didn’t even try to make it flow well. The fact that Nana, George and Me was put together without the forethought of filmmaking integrity clearly states that Balass couldn’t have been bothered to even try.
And at this brings me full circle to intention vs. quality. I could say that Balass had good intentions. But after watching this…who knows what his intentions were at the time.
Imagine dull eyes if you will. You’re there, and you’re stuck for what seems like an eternity. That’s Nana, George and Me.