At first glance, Sheriff brings Cops to mind. The only real similarity is that a camera tracks an officer of the law.
There are no chases through backyards and over fences, no flushing of dime bags from low hung pants, no spotlights on poor people's domestic disturbances.
This documentary, part of producer Daniel Kraus' work series, takes place in rural North Carolina. There we follow Sheriff Ronald E. Hewitt through the routines of his job.
Hewitt comes across as the model of Southern propriety. He's also a politician. He seems to enjoy meting out justice in a way that's civil. When confronting a crime, he administers his responsibilities without being a proselyte or braggart.
Hewitt breaks up an illegal video poker establishment with a politeness and courtesy more commonly associated with a four-star restaurant.
At first these affectations seem suspect, highly polished for the camera. But the viewer comes to suspect that what you see constitutes the real deal. He is a man who envisions and expects the best from everyone-- from himself, his children, the officers that serve under him, and the members of the community who he knows by name.
His code of uprightness and concepts like honor, trust, and responsibility do not ring hollow here. This is Bible country and, despite some lingering issues of what might euphemistically be labeled as "lagging diversity," it has an appeal. Believe it or not, there are African Americans who would never trade in what appears to be a remnant Jim Crow South for the urban terror of the North. In the end, the documentary is not about the sheriff, but the ability to document the working lives of Americans -- to tell but not to judge. The straightforwardness of this, Kraus' first of a series, is effective, economic, and worthy of anticipation for his next piece -- on a jazz musician.
Day Night Day Night, DVD (2006) Directed by Julia Loktev
At the end of this story we know little more about the protagonist than at the beginning. She's 19 and of indeterminate race. We come to learn that the ideal she holds, which includes the means of furthering it, exceeds the value of her life. The process by which she came to this point we are destined to remain ignorant.
With a skeleton of information, as symbolically basic as international symbols on public restrooms, we come with amazing ease to understand how she intends to go forward.
She possesses an unfailing politeness, which also could be interpreted as pathological diffidence, subjugating herself to handlers preparing her for the mission.
She awaits instructions inside a low-rent, nondescript motel room. At one point to relieve the tedium, she pulls back a ceiling-to-floor drape, exposing a sliding glass door. She opens it to look outside. Her phone rings and she does not respond; it rings again and she answers it. This reveals itself through several incidents to be a code.
A voice, absent of accent and emotion, instructs her not to reveal herself at the window again. She pacifically agrees and waits for further instructions.
Her handlers show up at her room wearing black ski masks. She's outfitted in clothes least likely to attract attention; as an accessory she gets a backpack, in which an explosive device is placed. She's drilled on contingencies and given instructions on how to activate her package. She poses in front of a revolutionary type poster, with bandoleer and a automatic weapon in preparation to record some type of propaganda tape. Absent this, there is no rhetoric. Her destination is Times Square.
The unsettling part of this minimalist telling is how quickly what wouldn't have held comprehension a decade ago could be interpreted in any part of the world. It is a powerful statement.