Welcome one and all to Flixist’s new end of the year awards program, the Golden Cages! With Hollywood becoming increasingly out of touch with what the people like, we at Flixist have taken it upon ourselves to deliver the fair, balanced, dignity-filled awards you deserve. Why are we delivering our 2018 awards so late in the year? Because the Oscars do it and we’re better than them. The winners of the Golden Cages will be spread out over the next two weeks, right before the hostless Academy Awards.
In Pittsburgh, a town that prides itself on being tied for having the most Super Bowl rings, and having one of the more successful runs in modern professional hockey history, there’s a man who stands above even the greatest sports figures. Fred Rogers. An entire wing of the museum of history downtown is dedicated to him and his television show, and his statue overlooks the river while songs he performed on his children’s show Mister Rodger’s Neighborhood play for all to hear. To native and adoptive residents of the city, such as myself, Fred Rogers is a legend.
So it stands to reason that when a documentary about Fred Rogers’ life and work was announced early last year, there was a lot of anticipation from me and many of us on staff (even though the rest of the staff isn’t from Pittsburgh). At the time, and quite honestly still to this day, it feels like the time is ripe for a relighting of the torch that Fred Rogers carried all throughout his life until his death in 2003. What we got from Won’t You Be My Neighbor was that and so much more.
While Won’t You Be My Neighbor wasn’t the hard-hitting documentary that we’ve come to expect from the genre, it did tell the story of where Fred had come from and all that he did over his years as a television personality. Alongside showing how great and caring of a man Fred Rogers was and all the work he did in the service of children, it also showed the forces that he was up against. Robert Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam War, 9/11. Through each of these of tragedies, we were shown Fred as the antithesis.
Seeing these moments in juxtaposition to what he stood for made me angry, they made me cry, and made me feel helpless against an oppressive world. But through it all, there was Fred, eager to show me the light that I couldn’t see, urging me to not give up hope. It was as if even up against the forces of evil that have persisted long after his death, Fred was able to reach out through the documentary and give us a much-needed hand on the shoulder. In a way Won’t You Be My Neighbor brought a new generation Fred’s message and if that isn’t the mark of a good documentary then I don’t know what is.
While I don’t doubt Tom Hank’s upcoming fictional film about the twilight of Rogers’ life will be more popular with the general public, I only hope that that movie’s inevitable wide reach will help point more people back to this documentary. The Oscars snubbing it for even a paltry nomination don’t help it much but let the rotting dinosaurs have their Oscar, we have the Cages. My biggest hope is that Won’t You Be My Neighbor leaves Kanopy and goes to a streaming service that people actually have so more eyes end up seeing it. Until then, there’s always the local library…