Charmingly soft-spoken and yet powerfully incisive expressing his profound ideals, Fred Rogers was a unique presence on television for generations. Through interviews of his family and colleagues, the life of this would-be pastor is explored as a man who found a more important calling to provide an oasis for children in a video sea of violent bombardment. That proved to be his landmark series, MisteRogers' Neighborhood (1968), a show that could gently delve into important subjects no other children's show would have dared for that time. In doing so, Rogers experienced a career where his sweet-tempered idealism charmed and influenced the world whether it be scores of children on TV or recalcitrant authorities in government. However, that beloved personality also hid Rogers' deep self-doubts about himself and occasional misjudgments even as he proved a rock of understanding in times of tragedy for a world that did not always comprehend a man of such noble character.
From the same director
Joanne Rogers (Herself), Betty Aberlin (Lady Aberlin (archive footage)), David Bianculli (Himself), McColm Cephas Jr. (Himself - Kid), François Scarborough Clemmons (Himself (as François Clemmons)), Bill Clinton (Himself (archive footage)), Hillary Clinton (Herself (archive footage)), Johnny Costa (Himself (archive footage)), Kailyn Davis (Herself - Kid), Jeff Erlanger (Himself (archive footage)), Al Gore (Himself (archive footage)), Lyndon Johnson (Himself (archive footage)), Tom Junod (Himself), Robert F. Kennedy (Himself (archive footage)), Brian Kilmeade (Himself (archive footage)), Max King (Himself), Koko (Herself (archive footage)), Junlei Li (Himself - Fred Rogers Center Director), Yo-Yo Ma (Himself), Christa McAuliffe (Herself (archive footage)), Joe Negri (Himself), David Newell (Himself), John O. Pastore (Himself (archive footage)), Penny Patterson (Herself (archive footage)), Fred Rogers (Himself (archive footage))...
Emma Baiada (associate producer), Leslie Berriman (executive producer), John Boccardo (executive producer), David Boies (executive producer), Caryn Capotosto (producer), Samantha Casey (archival producer (as Samantha Kerzner)), Dan Cogan (executive producer), David J. Cornfield (executive producer), Linda A. Cornfield (executive producer), Geralyn White Dreyfous (executive producer)...
I didn't grow up with Mr. Rogers, I hadn't even seen an episode of his show until my later years. Despite this, I came into Won't You Be My Neighbor? as eagerly as possible. When I came out, I was almost speechless. The conversation I had with the people I'd seen the movie with was almost too jumbled to be understandable. I was at a loss for words, and it was a good thing. Few documentaries have been able to capture the spirit, humanity, and works of a person this well.
The tone of the movie is set almost immediately; old footage plays showing a much younger Rogers playing the piano and giving reason for his ambitions. He doesn't seem to be too full of himself, and the concept he has in mind is one that is both humble and sweet. Even before he's given the ability to use his talents, he seems as if he's right next to them. The strong point of this film, for sure, is it's humane portrayal of Rogers. It doesn't just linger on the fact that he did good things, it explores what made him want to do those good things. His motivations make sense, and he, as a person, nearly brought tears to my ears several times. I didn't cry at all, but I'd be lying if I said I never came close to it.
There really much else to say about this. This is a profound, well-made documentary that does it's job excellently. I can't think of a single thing that made the engrossing experience of watching Roger come to life on a big screen any less engrossing. I loved it and will most likely see it again when it finally gets the wide release it deserves.
Although the documentary includes a brief clip of Mr. Roger's meeting with Koko the Gorilla and shows Koko removing Mr. Roger's shoes, it does not explain the story behind the gorilla's actions. After Koko died in June 2018, multiple obituaries for the gorilla explained that Koko faithfully watched Mr. Rogers' show every day, and during their encounter, she removed his shoes because she was used to seeing him do the same at the start of every episode.
4 wins & 4 nominations
Boulder International Film Festival • Cleveland International Film Festival • Golden Trailer Awards • Heartland Film • Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival • Miami Film Festival • Portland International Film Festival • Seattle International Film Festival
Won't You Be My Neighbor? (USA)
tv show host, public broadcasting, race relations, children's programming, teachable moment, tolerance, kindness, non violence, young children, overcoming trauma, father figure, question in title, hand puppet, puppet, gorilla, wheelchair, gay man, piano, song, singing, nice guy, sincerity, black man, silence as subject, breathing as subject
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