Slowly but surely, I plan on posting about all the films I saw at last week’s Annapolis Film Festival. Previously I reviewed The Rewrite and Runoff. Today we’ll take a look at the first of four documentaries I viewed at the festival.
Two Raging Grannies (doc 2013) Håvard Bustnes
We meet 90-year-old Shirley Morrison (above left) as she’s driving her scooter along the sidewalks of Seattle, handing out clothes to the homeless. Later Shirley and her best friend Hinda Kipnis (who’s 86) go shopping for more items they can give to the homeless. Shirley is focused; Hinda, a bit cantankerous. “I love you dearly,” Hinda tells Shirley during the shopping excursion,”but we don’t see eye-to-eye on things.”
One thing they do agree on is that something’s wrong with the American economy. The ladies suspect that stimulating the economy by spending more money isn’t the answer, so they Google terms like “economic growth,” call several economists, and visit a University of Washington economics class where both ladies are unceremoniously kicked out for causing trouble, i.e. asking questions. (More on this scene in a moment.)
Finally they meet a man who has some answers, Albert Bartlett, retired physics professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, who starts by saying “What we’ve been told is inaccurate.” He then explains the economic problem in a way that we and the grannies can understand.
Armed with this information, the grannies meet several supposed experts in economics. They talk to investment advisor John Sterba, who tells them that the economy has been growing for a long time, for centuries. When the ladies ask “What happens if the economy doesn’t grow?”, Sterba looks at them blankly and answers, “I don’t know.”
The grannies decide to seek further illumination in New York City, where they talk to Joshua Farley, an ecological economist who tells them that “People aren’t listening because they’re being brainwashed.” He likens the situation to driving your car toward an approaching cliff. If you knew your car was nearing the edge, Farley tells them, wouldn’t you put on the brakes?
The scene filled with the most tension occurs when the grannies attend the Wall Street Dinner, which I suppose anyone with enough money can attend. They do, and something happens that’s either horribly brutal (if it’s true) or at least partially staged. I don’t want to tell you more, but that scene and at least one other calls the validity of Two Raging Grannies into question. This Wall Street Dinner scene also brought to mind the scene in the economics class. There was something about it that didn’t ring true and thinking back on it, the scene had several different camera angles, which for a room that small, would require either several cameras going at once or lots of takes.
Yet some scenes truly move us. We see Shirley having her family over for for Thanksgiving dinner, which should be a joyous celebration, but when one of her adult grandsons (?) mentions that the Black Friday sales now start on Thanksgiving night, it clearly disturbs Shirley (and possibly us).
Bustnes also tries our patience several times showing a contrast between the slowness of the grannies and the quickness of everyone else. Twice we see the grannies crossing railroad tracks in their scooters while cars zip by them. We also see another shot of the grannies scooting along followed by a shot of a jet flying overhead, and another shot of the grannies being overtaken by a guy on a bicycle. Okay, we get it: everyone’s moving faster than they are.
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed much about Two Raging Grannies. The relationship between the two friends feels genuine, especially during scenes where Hinda gets sick on the New York trip and fears she’s a burden to both Shirley and the cause. We enjoy this “odd couple” friendship and often laugh at how they make the experts look foolish, but I wish the film had focused more on how they determined that the economy was a problem they wanted to combat, what led from one action to the next, etc. Plus we know next to nothing about their backgrounds and how they’re able to afford the New York trip (much less the expensive dinner), health care, etc.
The topic of economic growth in America is an important one, and these ladies understand that it won’t be a problem for them for much longer, but for the rest of us, something has to be done. The ending leaves us with a bit of hope, but there’s really no sense that anything will change on a larger scale. Maybe that’s up to us. If so, we could probably learn a lesson or two from Shirley and Hinda.