The Chicago International Film Festival closes up shop later this week, but they’ve already handed out the Hugo Awards. The big feature prize went to Le Havre, which I quite like (though it isn’t Kaurismäki’s best by a long shot). Actually, I have to shout agreement with a number of the awards: The Forgiveness of Blood, Cinema Komunisto, and The Good Son are all films I raved about at Spout. But that’s hardly what I’m here to say.
Nine shorts were awarded at CIFF this year, with Hugos and Plaques alike. The Golden Hugo went to The Eagleman Stag, which I must say looks pretty fantastic. As for the other eight awards, they’re spread out over six different countries (with the notable absence of the USA). None of the winners are available on the web, and I’ve only seen one of them myself. However, I loved Caretaker for the Lord so much that it’s worth talking about anyway.
The film, which picked up the Silver Hugo for Best Documentary Short, is the best documentary short I saw at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. And there was some stiff competition. Director Jane McAllister brought her camera to dying community church St. Luke’s and St. Andrew’s in Glasgow, Scotland to capture its final days on film. The result is a quiet, elegiac piece that brings life to this aging congregation even as it faces its end.
There is just so much going on in these 17 minutes. The church has taken to offering community classes in order to survive a little longer. There’s karate for local kids and yoga for the elderly – the congregation on the whole is aging rapidly, which leads to some wonderful moments both comic and poignant. We catch a glimpse of the lives of these women, some of whom have been coming to this church every Sunday for 70+ years.
The minister, on the other hand, is young and horrible. He’s also part-time at St. Luke’s and St. Andrew’s, venturing over from his healthier congregation only to admonish these women for dancing in the building and refusing to accept their own demise. He’s acerbic, confrontational, and as lacking in subtlety as he is in compassion. His sermons offer sharp contrast to the truly peaceful goings on when he isn’t around, poetically proving that the true health of religion rests not in its hierarchy but in its community.
This is all brought together by McAllister’s excellent visual sense for humanity. Shots often linger, allowing us to experience the physical church alongside its parishioners without any need for manipulation. Meditative without becoming dull, Caretaker for the Lord guides its audience through the goings on at St. Luke’s and St. Andrew’s with a remarkable tranquility. And perhaps most importantly, it listens. McAllister doesn’t simply depict the old women of the church as aging symbols of an aging community, but rather allows them to converse openly and warmly before her camera. The film is a beautiful example of real human compassion, humbly shot and transparently presented. It’s well worthy of any festival award.