Movie Review - Alex & Ali (Frameline Fest Review) - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Movie Review - Alex & Ali (Frameline Fest Review)

Alex (left) and Ali in their 20's in Iran. Alex (left) and Ali in their 20's in Iran.

Documentaries can come in various forms. One major form is the one where the director is looking backwards at something that happened either recently or historically and is trying to re-create it. The other major form is simply capturing an event or story as it's occurring. In such case, the director gets to experience its subject live and in the present. Filmmaker Malachi Leopold attempts to do a little of both here. As such, he had certain expectations, expectations that were completely shattered by a turn or twist of fate.

In a 2011 interview with Edge Media Network, the activist filmmaker answered questions about the impetus to make Alex & Ali, the documentary about his gay uncle Alex in North Carolina and his gay lover Ali in Iran, and how they've been working to reunite since the two separated in 1977. What was particularly fascinating is that Leopold was raised in a strict, evangelical home. His father, in fact, was a pastor who raised Leopold to think homosexuality was a sin worse than murder. Leopold said he even protested gay people. The fact that he was able to make this film and completely turn his mind around is quite incredible. Instead of protesting them, he's now working to promote and advance equality and LGBT rights. He labels his journey as "the asshole and the advocate." The first word represented who he used to be in regard to gay rights. The second word represents who he is now.

Alex is a 68-year-old man, residing in North Carolina. He's gay and he lives alone with his dog. In May 2012, he traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, for a couple of weeks to meet Ali, an Iranian man most likely in his sixties as well. Alex is Leopold's maternal uncle and before leaving for Turkey, Alex showed Leopold love letters from Ali and even old pictures of the two, some in black-and-white. Alex had gone to Iran in 1967 as part of the Peace Corps where he met and started having an affair with Ali until he was forced to leave in 1977. Alex's trip to Turkey in 2012 would be his first meeting with Ali face-to-face in 35 years.

Leopold decided to document the reunion of Alex and Ali. It was his hope to tell this really inspiring and touching love story, one that would tackle contemporary and relevant issues like foreign relations with Middle Eastern countries like Iran, as well as homophobia in those countries and how it relates to equality back home in the United States. Essentially, that's what happened, but not in the manner that Leopold was anticipating.

Leopold handles the twist in anticipation gracefully, with careful observance and little interference. What he presents is something very simple but far more thrilling and intriguing than many of the action films this year. It's funny to think that this film goes from a secret, gay love to political torture. It would be like switching from Brokeback Mountain to Zero Dark Thirty and trying to tie those two together. It's odd, but it seems to happen in this film.

It makes all of it ultimately heartbreaking. While some might see it as a pessimistic look at long-distance relationships, it's undeniable that Alex and Ali had something great and beautiful for nearly 50 years, which brought them together not just once but twice, despite both being separated by half the world.

No matter what happens, that something great and beautiful will always be with them, and even though that may be difficult to re-create, by the end of the movie, you do feel it, and that's love. You might not feel it in the way most might want, but it is felt. It's an emotional and surprising documentary in that regard where you don't know where it's going but you feel something strongly, and when telling nonfiction, that's often the best place to be.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for general audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 27 mins.

Alex & Ali plays at the Frameline Film Festival on Sunday, June 21 and Saturday, June 27.
For show times and tickets, go to Frameline39's web site.
For more information, you can go to the film's Facebook page.
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