The 25th Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July, 2013)
Matt Micucci is moved by Viko Nikci’s documentary, which won both the Best Irish Feature Documentary and the Best Human Rights Documentary in association with Amnesty International at the 25th Galway Film Fleadh.
Coming Home, the first documentary feature by Viko Nikci, is a truly powerful work and very unique on many levels. The thing that comes across as most admirable is how a film about a man who suffered a great injustice and was incarcerated for 13 years for a crime he did not commit could be so sweet and touching instead of angry and aggressive. This is also the reason why it was able to charm the audience, whose reaction to the film was the warmest of any screening at this year’s fleadh.
Furthermore, rather than this being a film about a case, this is a film about a person, and rather than being an investigative documentary it is a human portrayal. Coming Home follows the story of Angel Cordero as he tries to reconnect with the outside world after his thirteen years’ incarceration. In doing so, he must reconnect with a world that has evolved on many levels – the technology for instance has taken some giant leaps, and things like smart phones seem new and strange to him. But what really drives the movie, is the story of his reconnection with his estranged daughter, who represented his hope and joy in his years of great struggle and pain, and the lengths to which he is willing to go to win back her love.
When time comes for the film to get into the details of the event which led to the incarceration, members of Angel’s family touchingly recall what happened with tears in their eyes. Still, even in the confrontation between Angel and the real culprit Dario Rodriguez, there is no anger but rather regret and guilt for the way things went. In an emotional sequence, Dario even meets Angel’s mother and bursts into tears almost instantly, asking her to give him a hug. This makes you wonder whether the reason why he has been out of jail since he was sixteen was because he had never received the attention and love that would have kept him out of trouble.
Ultimately, what Angel is most disappointed about is that he missed thirteen years of his life as a father. Indeed, the film goes through great lengths in trying to capture his struggles in winning the love of his daughter back, even breaking parole to travel to Florida and give her a birthday present.
Another great choice is to detach this film from the conventional perception of documentary filmmaking as an intellectual’s film genre. Coming Home is shaped in an accessible and moving way. This is achieved successfully also with the help of Robert Flood, the cinematographer who employs a use of a cinematography usually identified with narrative filmmaking. For instance, tracking shots are chosen over handheld shots. The music also successfully provides the film a modern feel, with its hip hop tracks and urban beats that further strengthen the appeal for a wider audience. This whole approach, however, does not mean that the cameras get in the way of the action, and it never really feels like it does. This point was further strengthened when, after the screening, Nikci explained that on over 5000 hours of shot footage, only about 90 of it was used, which means that they could choose to leave out whatever they thought was too staged or didn’t feel genuine.
Of course this was a point which could have been argued against, if it hadn’t been for the fact that all throughout the duration of the film, it never feels as if any of the subjects were putting on an act. The emotions are real whether it’s the fits of uncontrollable laughter or the tears, often fought back. As well as that, there is a will for everyone to be totally open in front of the camera, whether it’s Angel’s family or Angel himself. In fact, Angel’s presence is magnetic and his eloquence just incredible as well as his will to reveal his story to the world in order to clear his name. Quite frankly, he’s a star just by being himself. This the audience in attendance was able to see with their own eyes when Angel took to the stage at the Town Hall Theatre to answer a few questions, and for everyone it was the ultimate evidence of the fact that no, this film was not staged.
The events are real. Angel really did spend thirteen years of his life in prison for something he didn’t do. Therefore, there is no need to lie. There is a lot of pain behind this story, but more importantly a feeling of longing for rebirth, leaving the past behind and starting over and this is a positive message that is becoming uncommon in films of its kind, where anger and negativity reign supreme. Coming Home is a moving story which will capture the heart of many and will also be able to connect to a wider audience than the average documentary one.