Review by Sean Boelman
The Hottest August, directed by Brett Story, is an ambitious new documentary taking a unique approach on universal issues. Although Story’s idiosyncratic film likely won’t appeal to everyone, those who read into the various segments are sure to find themselves challenged and enlightened by what they see on screen.
In the movie, Story interviews various residents of New York City in August 2017, which was one of the hottest months on record and was a particularly tumultuous time in the political landscape. By allowing these people to tell their personal stories, Story effectively creates a cinematic collage of the population of New York and the country as a whole.
On its surface, the film is about climate change and how this crisis is affecting the people of the world. However, on a deeper level, the movie is about the collective anxieties that are faced by American society today. While some of the stances that are expressed in the film may not be the most agreeable, it would be hard to deny that many of the emotions these people are feeling are ones everyone has felt.
That said, the movie could have spent a bit more time with each individual subject and cut out some of the less interesting ones. Story undoubtedly has enough footage to make an entire miniseries or art instillation out of these tales, so cutting them down into a feature film that is just over an hour and a half must have been quite the task.
The episodic nature of Story’s movie is what is likely going to be the most trying for general audiences. Even though the segments are linked by time, place, and theme, they also feel very independent of each other. Some viewers may be put off by this loose narrative, but since the anecdotes are relatively interesting, the film never feels overly slow.
The tone of the movie is also intriguing. Although the overall outlook of the film on the future is rather dark and gloomy (there is some doom-and-gloom related to climate change), there is still quite a bit of hope to be found in the individual narrative of these people. As such, the movie is nowhere near as emotionally exhausting as other environmental documentaries.
On a technical level, Story’s film is quite strong. The interviews in the movie, shot at various places around New York City, are often beautiful, doing an excellent job of making not only the people but also the city feel alive and energetic. This film’s visual energy helps it become more captivating and almost mesmerizing.
The Hottest August is a challenging experimental documentary, and while it isn’t perfect, the filmmaker’s ambition pays off. Brett Story obviously has a lot to say about society, and her next movie may be an even more exciting prospect.
The Hottest August is now playing in theaters.