Vibrating like a raw nerve, Ellen Ratner makes for a fearsome presence at the fore of Academy award-winning director Barbara Kopple's biographical profile on the journalist/philanthropist, A Force of Nature. Ratner's staff appears half-inspired/half-frightened of the woman; one staffer takes most of a minute to verbally feel his way through a positive spin on his working relationship with her. And yet, everyone in the small office easily spills their assessment that Ellen is a good or kind woman; it's just the delivery of that kindness that can be a little rough around the edges at times.
The film's title comes from one of those staff interviews. It's a thoroughly appropriate label, as well as being a clue to Ratner's way of working, something which (at least in the film) she seems to always be doing. Kopple catches her at work, challenging both conservatives and liberals to engage in discourse; she tries to explain to a friend that despising Michele Bachmann's rhetoric doesn't preclude her from befriending the conservative politician.
While Ratner's repartee with pundits and players of the Washington D.C. political scene is highly entertaining, the film really blooms when it looks beyond the day job and to her work as an advocate for the oppressed and suffering. Kopple travels with her to south Sudan where she engages in work opposed to modern day slavery. The film also visits the Katrina-ravaged regions of Mississippi where Ratner began a recovery non-profit after a chance meeting with a woman on a plane.
Remarkably, I found my opinion of Ratner shifting during the course of the film. Her energy comes off as a little too overbearing at first but, by the end of the film, I found myself wanting to shake her hand for her tireless efforts. A Force of Nature reveals her as someone who never passes up an opportunity to advocate for positive change. A very inspiring whirlwind, indeed.
POWFest, NW Documentary and the Hollywood Theatre present "A Night with Barbara Kopple" on Friday, May 4th at the Hollywood Theatre.
A Force of Nature will screen at 7:30pm with Kopple and Ellen Ratner in attendance.
A POWFest Classic screening of Kopple's Academy award-winning documentary Harlan County U.S.A. will follow at 9:15pm.
More info about tickets and a pre-screening reception event can be found here.
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