Review by Sean Boelman
Some documentaries attempt to tackle big issues by exploring them on a wide scale, and sometimes they do so to great success. However, it can be even more emotional and effective when a filmmaker takes an intimate story and uses it to provide commentary on a greater issue, and that is exactly what journalist-turned-filmmaker Richard Lui does with his film Sky Blossom.
The movie takes a look at military families caring for former service members suffering from combat-related medical conditions and injuries, all the while trying to live a life of their own. It’s the type of story which is likely to connect with viewers despite the fact that a majority will be unaware of its impact.
In the film, Lui tells the story of five families, each of whom has a unique experience with life-changing combat injuries. And while at first glance these may seem like small, personal stories, the similarities between them are striking and shows that this may be more of a problem than anyone would have imagined.
One of the things that really stands out about Lui’s approach is that he does not focus on the injuries or the tragedy of these families’ situations, but rather, the sense of hope that they have in their approach. Although the movie does call attention to the problems with the system that allowed this to become a problem in the first place, this is first and foremost an uplifting film about people beating the odds.
Lui also makes the wise choice of keeping the movie short despite telling all of these stories. Although each of these families is very compelling, Lui is able to make his point quickly and succinctly, opting not to belabor the point or try to milk the subjects’ stories any more than is necessary.
That said, the film still has a very strong emotional impact nevertheless. Lui obviously formed a bond with these subjects, and it shows in the movie. Audiences can expect to feel a connection with them in a way that is consistently engaging without ever feeling manipulative or exploitative of the subjects’ misfortune.
Lui’s film is also very well-made in a technical sense. Although one would have expected Lui to take more of a journalistic approach given his background in news reporting, he’s actually made a very dynamic and cinematic documentary. From some great animation to a beautiful score, Lui and his team went all-out in making sure that they did justice to these people’s stories.
Sky Blossom isn’t a big and flashy documentary like so many of the ones that dominate the awards consideration, but it’s a powerful movie nonetheless. It’s the “Little Engine That Could” of this year’s race, so to speak.
Sky Blossom is now playing in virtual theaters for an awards qualifying run. Tickets can be purchased here.