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SXSW Review: Not Going Quietly

Activism involves fighting for a cause, and very often advocating for those who cannot do so themselves. It’s easiest for people to internalize injustices when they are the ones being discriminated against or oppressed in some way. True passion can motivate people to speak out on behalf of someone else and for something that they don’t personally feel, bringing a megaphone to what they believe in and need desperately to share with the world. Losing a voice that was previously present can be devastating, and it’s truly remarkable to watch those who have been through that find a new way to communicate, something this documentary conveys brilliantly.

Ady Barkan, a lawyer and activist, is diagnosed with ALS at age thirty-two. On a flight, he meets Liz Jaff, a fellow organizer who agrees to film his conversation with another passenger on the plane: Senator Jeff Flake, whose votes and rhetoric have indicated an opposition to healthcare that will prove critical to his survival. As his physical functions deteriorate, Ady uses the personal stake he now has in the work that he does to rally support for healthcare reform and to travel the country in a wheelchair-accessible tour bus to engage people in key communities where they have a chance to make a real difference with their organizing and votes.

This is a powerful and stirring film, one that shows a man so determined to keep fighting for the rights of others that he pushes himself to incredible lengths even when it becomes too demanding. While it is mostly structured in a linear fashion, the film begins by hearing testimony by Ady that he delivered in April 2019 via a computerized voice as that is now the only way his words can be heard aloud. While even he worries that the lack of inflection and emotion won’t hit listeners the same way, what he says and the fact that he has no choice but it share it in that manner speak more than loud enough.

Just as Ady was an ally before he needed to defend his own rights, he shows the same restraint and deference to others when it is not his turn to be in the spotlight. After organizing efforts to prevent Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court because of his views on abortion, Ady expresses an immediate acknowledgment of the need to pull back and support survivors after sexual assault allegations are lobbied against Kavanaugh. Ady passes the literal microphone to those whose experiences and insights will be most beneficial and need to be heard in that moment more than anything he had previously prepared.

The name for the organization started by Ady and Liz is simple: Be a Hero. Ady reaches people by convincing them that they don’t need to do much in order to improve the world, garnering support from residents of cities and towns across America and using the same approach to compel politicians to reconsider their stances on important issues. Ady, whose relationship with his young son, Carl, who was born four months before his diagnosis, is a key part of the film and his home life, is the kind of person who doesn’t want to be seen as inspirational or strong, but there’s no more appropriate way to describe him. This film is an uplifting and motivational portrait of someone who doesn’t believe there’s ever a time to give up, only to shift focus to something even more important.

Grade: B+

Not Going Quietly made its World Premiere at SXSW Online 2021 on Wednesday, March 17th and was awarded a Special Jury Recognition for Humanity in Social Action. Learn more about Be A Hero here.

Abe Friedtanzer
Abe Friedtanzer
Abe Friedtanzer is a film and TV enthusiast who spent most of the past fifteen years in New York City. He has been the editor of and since 2007, and has been predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards since he was allowed to stay up late enough to watch them. He has attended numerous film festivals including Sundance, Tribeca, and SXSW, and is a contributing writer for The Film Experience, Awards Radar, and AwardsWatch.


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