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 FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN 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 Channel.
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 feature 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 FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN 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.