An Unlikely Partnership
American filmmaker Jason Cohen’s documentary is the story of the unlikely partnership between former neo Nazi Tim Zaal and Matthew Boger, who Zaal and his friends had badly beaten when the teenaged Boger was living on the streets of Hollywood. Because Boger was gay, he had been thrown out of his family by his religious mother. Now in their 40s, they have made an accidental re-meeting and their horrific past connection into a lesson for others about the possibility of forgiveness, and a warning about how difficult it can be to escape one’s past. As these men tell their painful stories, it is chilling, powerful and profound.
“Facing Fear” is also exploitative, but it’s a knowing and aware exploitation in a sense of the word that’s neutral in terms of value: Matthew Boger and Tim Zaal know that they have a story that may change people’s lives for the better. In the early 1980s, Zaal was a neo-Nazi punk who nearly beat Boger to death, only to meet twenty-odd years later while both worked in the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and they exploit it. Cohen interviews the pair separately and showing the joint talks they give at museum and he also integrates other material.
It’s a great story. Boger and Zaal are both engaging people, and Cohen balances the short film .However, we never really absorb the details of his story, and Cohen’s decision to shoot the two separately (for the most part) means that there are mixed messages about what sort of friendship they have now.
While this is an inspiring story, to be sure, it’s held back by a “very special episode” sensibility. The movie always makes it absolutely clear how the viewer is supposed to feel, no matter how strong the material is on its own.
Thiscould have been an interesting exploration on the power of forgiveness but the two men’s interview segments seem overly rehearsed.