Now Playing! A Global Film Fest and Evidence Against Jeffrey Epstein

Still from 'Love Chapter 2.' (We Are One)

This week’s streaming highlights note the arrival of summer with the choice of dipping a toe (into a big pool) or going for full immersion (in a mucky swamp). The former will leave you refreshed, by and large, while the latter—well, one shower may not be enough.

We Are One: A Global Film Festival
YouTube
For all its strange delights, the chunk of the canceled South by Southwest hoedown that Amazon Prime streamed earlier this month demonstrated the limits of virtual film festivals. Without the shared experience of a live audience, a film loses a huge component of what makes it effective, and special. This goes for any movie, of course—I’m mulling a story on the purpose and practice of public spaces like theaters in the eventual post-COVID-19 world—but it’s especially true for a one-off festival screening.

With festivals grappling with and grasping for ways to be connected and relevant to their constituencies during shelter in place, they are pretty much limited to online viewing. On the plus side, with programming delivered directly to your domicile, physical proximity to a venue or festival isn’t an issue.

If you missed or skipped the SXSW online edition, take a flyer on We Are One (May 29–June 7). Some 20 festivals worldwide contributed programs, from heavy hitters like Cannes, Berlin, Venice and Toronto to respected regional events like Tokyo, Locarno and Mumbai. The lineup includes 31 feature films (including eight documentaries), 72 shorts (including 15 docs) and 15 archived talks (including a master class with Tantoo Cardinal).

Still from 'Crazy World.' (Courtesy of Nabwana I.G.G.)

The films on offer include Crazy World, a highlight of the Midnight Madness sidebar at last fall’s Toronto fest. Ugandan DIY maniac/maestro Nabwana I.G.G.’s latest jaw-dropping, no-budget action extravaganza is, um, something. (Check out his previous movies, Bad Black and Who Killed Captain Alex?, on Amazon Prime.)

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At some distance on the culture spectrum lies the invigorating and beguiling dance film Love Chapter 2. Israeli dancer-cum-choreographer Sharon Eyal’s modern ballet, backed with an intense score, is one of the Jerusalem Film Festival’s contributions.

There’s no cost to watch anything on We Are One, though donations to WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and local relief agencies are encouraged.

Still from 'Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich.' (Netflix)

Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich
Netflix
We’re inundated with a plethora of multi-episode nonfiction (i.e. limited series) on every cable network and streaming platform. As befits the infotainment age, most of them lean more toward sensationalism (and exploitation) than investigative journalism. Lisa Bryant’s deeply disturbing four-episode dive into Jeffrey Epstein’s long-running molestation pyramid scheme (as one journalist dubs it) is neither.

What it is, in purpose and execution, is a forum to give voice to approximately a dozen of the literally hundreds of women who were lured, abused and raped as vulnerable adolescents and teenagers by the now-deceased New York/Palm Beach predator Jeffrey Epstein. I suppose I should toss “alleged” into that sentence somewhere, since Epstein escaped this mortal coil before he could be tried and convicted in court. In the court of public opinion, however, which is where Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich rests its case, only a minority will give much weight to “alleged.”

One of those, no doubt, is the reptilian lawyer and Epstein pal Alan Dershowitz, who is the only figure on the perpetrator’s side of the aisle to offer a rebuttal to Bryant’s camera. It isn’t the filmmaker’s fault that she was unable to obtain interviews with Ghislaine Maxwell or the other women who (allegedly) charmingly procured underage girls for Epstein over a period of at least 20 years. But the documentary can’t accurately be described as an investigation in the absence of that testimony, or any other new information. (Nor is it sullied by the stuff of exploitation—hokey reenactments, cheap-shot filler and a thumping soundtrack.)

Maria Farmer in 'Filthy Rich.' (Netflix)

It is, on one level, a necessary and welcome piece of historical journalism that collects in one place, via interviews with a chief of police, journalists and survivors’ attorneys, the chain of events that led to Epstein’s long-running evasion of justice. Florida law enforcement and newspaper reporters did ace work, only to be sabotaged by a U.S. attorney whose presumed corruption still needs to be plumbed.

Frankly, this is all beside the point. The raison d’être of this documentary are the numerous wounded and brave accounts by young women. Their detailed descriptions of the horrific manipulation and exploitation they suffered, at the hands of a demented individual and his various assistants and abettors, comprise a catalog of evidence that is too monumental to discount, let alone disbelieve.

At its core, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich is a handsomely illustrated talking-head documentary. It isn’t drama, and it certainly isn’t art. In this case, that’s just right.