Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 24, 2021 6:10 pm 
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NICHOLAS BRUCKMAN: NOT GOING QUIETLY (2021 - San Francisco Jewish Film Festival 2021 (July 22 - Aug. 1))


An activist inspired by stark adversity

In 2020 Ady Barkan was named one of Time's 100 most influential people in the world. He is a political activist, with a difference. When he was diagnosed with ALS IN 2018 at the age of 32, he continued his work, focusing on promotion of universal health care for all in the United States. This film follows Ady's campaigning as he teams up with another activist he met, Liz Jaff, forming the Be a Hero PAC and traveling back and forth across the country with a team "bird-dogging" politicians. He could confront them with the fact that cutting health care funding would remove the care that was keeping him alive. The courage and spirit Ady shows in pursuing this campaign as he becomes weaker and gradually loses the power of speech are incredible.

The story is impressive but sometimes hard to watch, if you have not closely followed someone rapidly deteriorating step by step from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neurone disease (MND) or Lou Gehrig's disease. Most victims of the disease later in life live only three or four years. We know the British English theoretical physicist and cosmologist lasted over fifty years, but that was unique (and a doctor tells Ady every case is different. We observe Ady losing his ability to speak and starting to speak with a computerized eye-controlled speech generator. He gives a speech to a congressional committee about the Medicare for All proposal this way, a moment that begins the film. Later he has a tracheostomy when he begins having difficulty breathing - a decisive step he put off for obvious reasons, but one that may allow for prolonged life.

Various activists and helpers figure in the film. Besides Ady and Liz, most important are Ady's wife Rachel and their little boy Carl, whose selflessness and charm already echo his remarkable father's. Ady and Rachel make the difficult decision to have another child, and Carl gets a sister. Ady is present with wheelchair and computer speech to greet the new arrival.

One of the last things to grow weak in Ady is his big smile. And though the computer voice makes it hard to convey emotion, as he notes, he is a man with great humor and spunk. He needs it - especially when the month after his diagnosis, Trump is elected. But When the going gets tough, the tough get going and with the Trump threat to cut Medicare and other safety-net funds, Ady was inspired to go on the road. It's at the airport going to work on Senator Jeff Flake, a swing vote, that he meets Liz. She films him confronting Flake and on other occasions and was skillful at using the footage to galvanize social media. The Flake meeting led to the founding of Be A Hero, whose first campaign targeted the 2018 midterm elections.

This campaign via RV with Liz and other activists, with Rachel and Carl staying at home in Santa Barbara where she teaches, was debilitating for Ady, and he has to be bathed by friends and helpers; all this effort may even be advancing the disease.

The fight in DC to stop ratification of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice has a striking temporary victory. It loses in the end but Ady has become known enough to get the ears of Democratic presidential candidates.

Hard to watch though it is at times, Not Going Quietly is surprisingly upbeat. It depicts the enduring power of the human spirit. Ayi knows that his days are numbered, but he is determined to do work he and those around him can be proud of, and he succeeds. There is inspiration in this.

Not Going Quietly 96 mins. debuted at Austin (S/SW) Mar. 1, 2021, playing also at half a dozen mostly US festivals including Cleveland, Tribeca and Provincetown. It was screened for this review as part of the 2021 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (Jul. 22-Aug. 1; "Take Action Spotlight). Suggested viewing time Thurs., Jul. 22,
12:00 a.m.

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