- Don Ford
Don Reviews "Won't You Be My Neighbor?"
This will not be my “normal” review because the film I am about to talk about is a documentary of a person who is dear to my heart and helped shape my life, so I have a bias. Mr. Rogers, who is from Pittsburgh, and given my history there with his studio was about a mile from where I got my first tattoo AND the fact that he literally lived a couple miles away from my dad’s old house makes my connection that much deeper.
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is the new documentary film directed by Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom, Independent Lens). Told mostly through his footage and interviews with people like his wife, Sara, their two sons James and John and cast members like Betty Aberlain (Lady Aberlain), David Newell (Mr. McFeely), Joe Negri (Handyman Negri), and Francois Scarborough Clemmons (Officer Clemmons), it gives an overall view of the life and career of Fred Rogers from childhood to foregoing Seminary (which he would later go back to) and then his start in media. Even after what I would call “semi-retiring” since he came back part time after 9/11 happened so he could reach out to the children about it and other events.
I liked the presentation a lot here, with a good mix of current interviews and original footage, like the iconic trolley going down rail road tracks. The interviews themselves felt no holds barred, making them very informative even in moments of silence for reflection.
I truly learned so much more about Mr. Rogers than I could ever imagine, including issues of him dealing with people in his own organization whose life choices would have been seen as unacceptable for a children’s show at the time. This is one of the rare times where I actually got tears in a film and really runs the gambit of emotion. I just cannot say how much I loved “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”?. I will definitely recommend this film and it gets the coveted recommendation as full price in the theaters, and even would not be surprised if it makes my Top Ten of the year into the medal round.