© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
I'm not sure exactly what's going on in the field
of documentary films lately but there seems to
be a plethora of navel-gazing efforts that are
being screened at festivals and/or in general
now comes the Sundance-screened
which was
conceived as a multi-part television project.
Directed by and featuring New York filmmaker
Jennifer Fox,
FLYING is divided into six
segment running approximately an hour each. It
is being screened in two parts in movie theaters
before it eventually turns up on the Sundance

Shot over several years and on practically every
continent, the film chronicles Fox's complicated
love life as well as her travels to visit her
"girlfriends" around the globe. The daughter of a
businessman and a stay-at-home mom who
abandoned her own dreams of a music career,
Fox is the only daughter in a large family. At the
outset of each episode, she intones that she
intones about how she wanted to be like her
father, an amateur pilot. Clearly, she had lived
her life as she chose, making films, taking
lovers, and befriending a wide variety of females
from across the globe.

Fox also had a difficult relationship with her
mother and she comes across as quite resentful
of her mom and the other two woman who
figured in her formative years, her unmarried
aunt Shirley and her grandmother. To Fox, her
parents' marriage was not a good one and at
time her father was verbally abusive. There's a
lot of background covered which offers insight
into why this woman has turned out as
narcissistic as she has.

This, of course, has also spilled over into her
love life. As the film begins, Fox is carrying on a
relationship with a married South African whom
she identifies with the pseudonym "Kye." She
refers to him as her "lover" and she appears to
be hopelessly infatuated with him. When she
meets Patrick, a Swiss film technician, she is
not in the least interested in him, but he
pursues her and eventually wears down her
resistance. (Shades of Zoe Cassavetes' debut
BROKEN ENGLISH!) Patrick becomes
her "boyfriend" and he accepts her relationship
with Kye, although he clearly would prefer a
more monogamous one.

The thread of her love life runs throughout the
six hours as Fox navigates her relationships and
her work. As part of a project, she heads to
South Africa for part of the year to teach film
and oversee student-made efforts. Of course,
she's also able to meet up with her married
lover (and meet his children).

What keeps the film interesting, though, is not
Fox's "torn between two lovers" shtick, but her
encounters with various other women. She has
also introduced an idea which she calls "passing
the camera" requiring that the women she
interviews and/or films must also shoot footage,
thus retaining some of the intimacy of
conversation. It's a somewhat novel idea that
does add a layer to the feature.

The real impetus for this soul-searching feature,
though, is the diagnosis of one of her friends
with a brain tumor. Starting from that near
tragedy (her friend Pat undergoes an operation
that leaves her in constant pain), Fox begins to
chronicle her girlfriends, from twenty-something
Mindy who embraces marriage and motherhood
to L'Dawn whose storybook marriage fell apart
and has now devolved into a long-running court
battle over child support. In her travels, Fox
gets to speak to woman in South Africa, Egypt,
Berlin, Moscow, London, Pakistan, India, and
Cambodia. If her observations are sometimes
naive as she asks about the pressing issues
these women face, these females become the
reason to watch the film. (Fox does have an
annoying habit of asking sometimes perfect
strangers for romantic advice, though.)

By equal turns exasperating and gripping,
Fox's opus
will probably divide audiences along
gender lines, although I have the feeling that
even some women will not be willing to carry
the idea of sisterhood that far. I'd recommend
waiting for the film to air on TV, record it, and
then fast-forward through some of the more
self-indulgent sequences.

Rating:                C+
Running time:        350 mins.

Viewed at Film Forum and on DVD

Photo credit: Zohe Film Productions, Inc.