Sundance 2018: Mr. Rogers Documentary 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?'
by Alex Billington
January 26, 2018
"Let's make goodness attractive." We all know his name, we all know his show, but now we get to discover the complete story behind who this wonderful man really was. The iconic, irreplaceable Fred Rogers from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the man who created and starred on the beloved television show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood", which ran from 1968 to 2001. This new documentary film, Won't You Be My Neighbor? made by Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville (of The Cool School, Troubadours, 20 Feet from Stardom, Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal), provides an uplifting, humble look at Fred Rogers, as well as a definitive look at the show he created and its impact on the youth of America. It's so wonderful. I love watching documentaries like this that are moving and impassioned, built around the good found in us.
After seeing many of films, there's no question that Morgan Neville is a master documentary filmmaker. He not only knows how to carefully study and honor his subjects, but he crafts such lovely films with impressive aspects and elements that make them stand out beyond most other documentaries. From the opening title card (and all the title cards) which syncs right in with Mr. Rogers singing his iconic "It's a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood" song from the show, to the rest of the technical aspects of the film, Won't You Be My Neighbor? is an impeccably crafted documentary. He is also experienced enough to know that it's better to stray from a straightforward narrative, and edit the film in a way so we learn and discover more as it plays. It's not just a chronological examination of his life, it's a fantastic examination of his impact on the world.
I will fully admit that I thought this documentary might show us some "other" side of Fred Rogers that we didn't know about, or question some of his choices. But there is no other side to him. Really, he was just a wonderful man, who cared so much about kids and wanted to help them grow with a bit of encouragement and education. He knew how to talk to kids and dedicated his entire life to figuring out how to connect with them, and inspire them. He realized very early on that if you explain things clearly, and honestly, in a way they can comprehend, they will listen and they will understand. He also realized how important goodness is to the world, and how it can change the world for the better. This documentary allows us to discover that this was all that made up Mr. Rogers, and he made the world better for staying so true to his humble values.
This is the documentary we all need right now. It's a heartwarming, rousing film about how goodness makes an impact in society. It shows us that we can make a difference if we help someone else, if we support them, and believe in them, and remind them that they are perfect just they way they are. The film made me cry, in a good way. It will reach right into your heart, not because of anything tragic, but because it's so joyful and he was able to see the good in everyone. No matter who they were. There's even a tiny hint that perhaps his religious background taught him initially to be homophobic, but with time he learned to embrace everyone, because that's who they were. Neville crafts this film with such care, and it's so inspiring. The final moment at the end is perfect, asking every viewer to reflect on their own life and how they can make a difference, too.
Alex's Sundance 2018 Rating: 9 out of 10
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