Joshua Reviews The Kartemquin Films Collection: The Early Years Volume 3 [DVD Review]


As with any good trilogy or any good threesome of home video releases, the final in the series of DVD collections from Kartemquin Films looking at their early works ends with an absolute knockout punch.

Volume three, unlike its predecessors, only features one feature-length documentary, but it’s as big and influential a piece of non-fiction filmmaking as anything from the era in which it was released.

Entitled Marco, the film is a perfect manifestation of everything the company stood for, still stands for to this day, and will push to the forefront for the rest of its existence. The film’s premise is relatively simple. After discovering that a member’s wife was going to be giving birth to the couple’s first child, the Kartemquin collective decided to put the camera on the woman, and what follows is not only a middle finger to the cultural norms at the time, but a moving look into the creation of life and its bringing into this world. Shot in lo-fi black and white, the film is as vital today as it was the day it debuted, and is still the seminal film about child birth to date.

While the film itself is, at its core, about the birth of this child, it is about so very much more. During a time where more and more medication was being introduced into childbirth, the mother in question here, using the Lamaze method of childbirth, proves to us that while it may be painful, there is nothing stronger than a mother’s love and a mother’s drive.

Visually stunning, the Temaner family, Barbara, Gerald and young Marco, are three of the strongest characters within this collection of films, and while it comes as the collective’s final film promoted here, it may be the company’s most perfectly distilled statement. Shot in grainy black and white, the film isn’t the groundbreaking documentary, visually, that would come later on, even in this very generation, but they are the epitome of the emotionally affecting and intellectually stimulating slice of life films that Kartemquin very much makes to this day. Though a distant cousin to some of their recent films, Marco feels, even sometimes aesthetically as well as intellectually, like a long lost grandparent to a film like The Interrupters, or even a film like Steve James’ Hoop Dreams. The former shares its culturally focused ideology while the latter its intimate aesthetic and focus. Most films in this collection, including this film, are relegated to those school days when the teacher doesn’t feel like lecturing, but now firmly versed within the world of Kartemquin Films, this studio is one of the most important names when it comes to independently produced non-fiction cinema.

Sure, it may be the final release in this set, but it may be the most dense. Featuring interviews with the family members throughout different stages of their lives, the film is a time capsule that we just so happen to have the ability to share with this family. They discuss the impact that the film has had on not only film, but their lives singularly, and it’s really quite exciting to see that this family is still as vehement about their beliefs as they have ever been. Toss in some trailers, and you have a release that may not be for everyone, but with a gorgeous transfer and a film that is an equally arresting meditation on the social norms of an era, Marco is far more important and influential than just another educational documentary. It’s just a damn brilliant documentary.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.