Monday, November 13, 2017

DOC NYC Spotlight: Elish’s Notebooks

I’m excited to have been able to screen a few selections from DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its eighth year in New York City from November 9th-16th.

Elish’s Notebooks
Directed by Golan Rise
Festival Screenings

It’s difficult to get to know someone after they’re gone. Yet, naturally, there are things that people might not know that come to light only after a relative or loved one has passed, which may make the mourning process that much more painful since what could have been said when someone was alive might have greatly impacted the relationship in a positive way. Learning that someone wasn’t at all what you thought they were can be extraordinarily affecting and transformative, and that’s just what this insightful and unique documentary does.

Elisheva Rise, described as emotionally distant, was the mother of seven children. After her death, they discovered that she kept journeys written from the perspective of each of her children for many years, documenting the events in their lives as told not by her but by them. Elish’s grandson Golan opted to have these journals read aloud by their alleged authors, speaking the words written in their names while reading them for the first time, connecting with a mother who clearly had a lot more to say to her children than she did when she was alive.

The mere existence of Elish’s notebooks is fascinating in itself, and the conclusions her children reach while reading them are mesmerizing. Each of the children feels differently about what they read, though they are united by a disbelief that their mother could have kept these diaries for so long without them knowing. One son comments on the remarkable self-reflection it requires for a parent to process a simple thoughtless action that their child has done and ascribe their thought process rather than reacting in anger to a temper tantrum or other ungrateful behavior. Each child, now an adult, learns a great deal about themselves from readings these writings penned in their name.

The construction of this documentary does its already compelling subject justice, since viewers get the opportunity to know each member of the family by the way that they read words that aren’t their own but are meant to recount the details of their lives that they may or may not remember. Golan makes the bold choice not to have any of them interact on screen but rather to focus on the relationships each of them individually had with their mother and how this startling discovery has changed what they thought they knew. The experience of getting to know this family proves to be very memorable and completely engaging.


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