Director: Elan Bogarín and Jonathan Bogarín
Runtime: 88 minutes
306 Hollywood challenges the possibilities of documentary film with its magical real approach to the story of a grandmother and the world she occupied for seventy-one years: her house in Newark, NJ. We begin with the object of the house itself, the interior shinning out through its windows in an otherwise undefined universe and the introduction from the filmmaker siblings, Elan and Jonathan Bogarín, stating that here is their grandmother’s house which they would visit every Sunday afternoon as children. We’re introduced to their mother, their uncle, themselves, their grandmother, all of which provides the feeling of looking through old photos, our guides welcoming and loving. But this, of course is just the beginning. After the death of their grandmother, Annette Ontell, the house becomes a catalyst for the memories held in it, the imaginative renderings of personal belongings, and what makes up one’s existence after death.
Whereas a documentary biopic expectantly accesses one’s story through the talking heads of individuals still living who reflect on the deceased, this film, even with its title scratches this completely, allowing Annette to speak for herself in interviews taken ten years before her death and allowing the objects in her possession and the home to offer an archeology of her life. 306 Hollywood begins with the very real, material truth immediately following a loved one’s passing. Family members must process through the miscellany of objects collected over decades and that are now all that remain of their life. The house, well lived in for so many years, needs its contents sorted and disposed and to be listed for sale.
Our filmmakers give themselves eleven months, time in which to perform an archeological dig of the house and to be our compassionate guides into the small, but no less important, personal history of their grandmother. The magical real genre allows metaphors to be ‘literalized’ from the portal of a camera lens to the envisioned life from the autopsy of handmade dresses. Each imaginative leap illustrates the personal and emotional progress Elan and Jonathan make in rediscovering their grandmother, whether its toiletries catalogued on the tiles of the bathroom floor or pixelated closeups of interviews. They raise the questions what objects are worth preserving? How does our grandmother exist or does she in this assortment of objects? What story do they tell?
306 Hollywood’s playfulness with scale holds much of its charm as the physical space of the real life house transforms over a series of still frames into a replication in miniature and back again. It is filled and emptied and ‘realizes’ the materiality of itself and the scale of its memory to all human history. A train that passes in the afternoons on their childhood visits reappears as a toy locomotive on a track running through the darkened rooms, its lights conveying shadows of enlarged but familiar, household objects on the walls it passes. This is just one of the images which allow us to move about the space of the home and its objects. Furthermore the music, by composer Troy Herion, was phenomenal in its pairing with the visual dance of objects and in transporting audiences to a simultaneous present and past.
In our present, where DNA tests our the new fad, 306 Hollywood surfaces as a stunning testament to both the grieving process and the complex questions of the documentation of our personal histories. It beautifully captures the vocal materiality not just of Annette’s life but or our own, what will remain of ourselves in our nylons or our toothbrushes or our life’s work— whatever that might manifest as. With great care and attention to detail not without a sense of humor this film is stunning, heartfelt, and a must see.
A Q&A With The 306 Hollywood Filmmakers
This screening at the Sundance Film Festival at Salt Lake City’s Broadway Cinemas was fortunate enough to conclude with a Q&A with Elan Bogarín and Jonathan Bogarín and their mother, Marilyn Ontell. In response to the question of working together, Jonathan responded that it was a lifelong journey, and that trying to create a new genre of documentary film came out of the faith and trust in their relationship.
Magical realism, Elan explained, comes from a world of myth which holds birth, death, and coming of age narrative. In dealing with difficult topics, this approach made what might be an ordinary and impersonal environment to an audience reflective of the extraordinary and very personal environment that it was to those who loved Annette. She said that now she had to make sense of someone through objects.