Every question director Bell raises in Sons of Ben–passively, because he never lets himself have a presence in the film; Sons of Ben isn’t an active documentary (which makes it all the more impressive)–Bell addresses all of those questions, even the difficult ones, even the somewhat off-topic ones. An example of the latter is the tabs Bell keeps on one of the participant’s marriage, where the personal lives of the rest of the participants are on mute. The wife is exceptionally engaging–and given the positive outcome for Sons of Ben, her perspective would make a great fictional movie.
Bell doesn’t do anything to focus on her. Her presence in the narrative is natural. Her husband starts this group of soccer fans in search of a soccer team, she’s a good source for that event. But Bell’s sensibility for following through isn’t just bringing a person back, it’s how he weaves the participants’ recollections through one another. Small scale, he does a great job with the interviewees and their perspectives. Big scale, he makes Sons of Ben about a subsection of a community finding adapting to an entirely different community. Okay, two great fictional movies.
But those two great fictional movies are because of reality. Bell’s never manipulative with Sons of Ben. When he does have an emotional moment, it’s an earnest one. Even when it’s an emotional recollection to an interviewee and not something external, Bell knows how to present it. He and editors Jacob Brice and Glenn Gapultos have a wonderful sense about how to listen to people.
Sons of Ben is fortuitous to have such a great historical narrative to present, but Bell’s tone for the film is essential. His boldness and honesty elevate the film.
The only problem with Sons of Ben is it isn’t twice as long.