Overview: Seven Australian teenagers volunteer as English teachers in Thailand. u16.co; 2016; Not Rated; 96 minutes.
Creating a Path: Normally, if I were to say that a filmmaker seems not to know what film he/she is making, one might safely assume that such a statement is meant to be critical of the final product. In the case of Six Months to Salvation, however, that very assessment is both true and and a major reason behind the film’s success. The new documentary, freely available on Vimeo and YouTube on November 23, opens with the film’s director Lorenzo Benitez laughing at a headline outlining the life-changing experience of volunteer teachers. Benitez, who, along with a handful of other volunteers, will soon be participating in a similar program. As Benitez the director moves to testimony from the other volunteers, there is an illustrated sense of youthful idealism from a generation perhaps far more aware than any that has come before it. The establishment of this element might lead one to expect a cinematic essay, off-puttingly certain in its position. Six Months to Salvation gives anything but that.
Filming the Path: Structurally, Six Months to Salvation has three layers: 1) serene footage of the breathtaking landscape in the village where the Karen hill tribe reside, 2) interactions between the Karen tribe and its volunteer teachers, and 3) conversations between the teachers about the usefulness and morality of their mission. Credit goes to editors James Halloway and Jonathon Parker for stitching these layers together in a way that allows the film to operate with the connective energy as its subject. Six Months to Salvation contains important conversations about colonialism, globalism, and culture. One of my favorite discussions within the film covers the responsibility of properly preserving culture, the debate as to whether cultural preservation is best achieved through non-intervention or through assisted progression.
Considering the Path: But Benitez never settles on and rides forward with a conclusion. In a meta-theatric leap perhaps a bit too sizable for the filmmaker’s junior status, several chapters of the film allow Benitez to openly discuss and film his own hangups about his position as a teacher and his position as a filmmaker operating in this murky gray landscape using only the dull flashlight of youthful idealism. Even the film’s final segment, more of an epilogue than a climax, holds on one of its best landscape shots which is voiced over by a presumptive phone conversation between Benitez and fellow teacher Callum retrospectively discussing what they have done and what value it offered to the Karen children. Their vocal tones suggest confusion where their words seek certainty. And so it is with the whole film, a documentary about the energy of life beneath logic, the goodness of continuing to ask the right questions in the absence of easy answers in a world whose most simplistic beauty is caught in a torrent of complex cultural compromise.
Overall: Six Months to Salvation is a promising documentary that makes one hope that its creator holds as steadfast to his curiousity and compassion as he does his camera.
Featured Image: u16.c0