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SIFF review: ‘Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins’ is informative and respectful to the late journalist

Documentary pays tribute to the woman who became a journalist ‘to have fun, do good, and raise hell’

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Raise Hell

Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Irvins,” screening at Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), combines archival footage and interviews to tell the story of the late journalist and author Molly Ivins, crafting a funny and heartwarming documentary about a flawed woman. "Raise Hell" is directed by Janice Engel, and its 93-minute runtime is comprised of old footage, journal entries, and photos of Ivins paired with interviews of Ivins’ friends and family members.

Thanks to Ivins’ funny, sarcastic personality, the documentary felt more like a comedy, as the journalist tore into politicians and policies alike, for which she was best known. As a 6-foot-tall Texan woman, she wasn't afraid of anyone.

The audience was laughing for over half of the film, largely due to Ivins’ own quotes, such as, “If you take the fools out of Congress, they will no longer represent the common people,” as well as the ways she poked fun at her home state of Texas for being behind the times and being “extremely American” in the ways they have embraced the culture here.

The film did well in balancing the testimonials of Ivins’ friends and family with supporting footage and journal entries of Molly herself, as it walked the audience through Ivins’ entire life. The story is told chronologically, and while this may be boring to some, it worked well for the film in detailing her busy life. While this documentary was a collage of different times and stories about Ivins, it had a clear storyline through her life, showing her development as a person and journalist and into the later years of her life when she was struggling with breast cancer. I felt like I knew her as a person, not just as the outspoken and feisty journalist she was known as. Though she died long before I paid any attention to politics, her story is one that many would benefit from hearing.

One of the things that made this film so successful is how relevant a lot of the things that Ivins said during the Civil Rights movement and regarding the Patriot Act in the aftermath of 9/11 are still relevant today. One of her quotes that was highlighted in the film was, "[Americans] get so scared … that we think that we're making ourselves safer by making ourselves less free," which still rings true all these years later.

This documentary is well worth the watch, especially for aspiring journalists like myself, as it shines a bright light on what journalism used to be and how hard it was for a woman to become established in the field. The film shows how far the field has come, due in part to outspoken reporters like Ivins. It's a well-crafted history of a prominent woman who made it her goal to break societal norms.

The film is screening May 31, with director Engel scheduled to attend, and June 1 at SIFF Cinema Uptown. More details about tickets and show times can be found on SIFF’s website.

Reach writer Zach Jablonski at arts@dailyuw.com. Twitter: ZachJablonski14

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