A Sparkling Documentary at Roanoke College

‘Obit’ director Vanessa Gould with Roanoke College President Mike Maxey.

Vanessa Gould, film maker.

Tonight offered the second superb opportunity in the past few weeks for those of us either in the newspaper business, or we who have left it to get a perspective via film of the industry.

The Academy Award-nominated Hollywood movie “The Post” is getting all the press–so to speak–but Vanessa Gould’s little documentary, “Obit,” which I saw (with Ms. Gould a couple of rows away) last night at Roanoke College may be its equal, though a documentary.

This is a close examination of the obituary department of the New York Times, one of the few organizations big enough to still have a department strictly devoted to the recently departed. And was it ever illuminating. An old friend, who was at the showing, said, “There were points when I forgot I was watching a movie and thought I was there.”

It was that compelling, which makes the fact that there were almost no newspaper people in the audience all the sadder. Those who were present are mostly old (like me) newsies who revere what we used to know of the business. Much of what we admired is history, I’m afraid.

In any case, I was taken by the obit writers who were interviewed, people with sparkling resumes in the news business. One actually said, writing obituaries has “next to nothing to do with death and almost everything to do with life.” Another, talking about researching subjects of recent death, observed that “the thing you were looking for leads you to the thing you weren’t looking for, which is often better.” That applies to just about any storytelling, but I imagine it would be especially applicable to the obit, where you’re writing about people you don’t know, but find out you would loved to have known.

The movie is available on Amazon Prime and would be well worth your while to invest a little of your time. If only for old time’s sake.

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