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Mole Man

DOC NYC 2017 Review


Archer Grey ; 79 minutes

Director: Guy Fiorita


Written by on November 17, 2017 




Toiling away in his backyard in Butler, PA (outside of Pittsburgh), Ron Heist is a 66-year-old man who built his first structure at age 16 and kept going, creating an elaborate multi-room network above and below ground without mortar and nails. How does he do it? The weight of the structure supports its walls–if that sounds like a major liability for his visitors, you’re not alone.

A member of a “lost generation,” a group of adults who were never officially diagnosed autistic, he operates on a precise clock telling friends and family to call between 6:03 and 7:03 a.m. when he takes his breakfast–after which it’s back in the maze or foraging for building materials from abandoned rust belt towns. Taken care of by his brother and 90-year-old mother, Ron persists as the family worries about and explores his future, estimating they will need approximately a million dollars to keep Ron at home.

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A group home doesn’t seem like an option and in desperation, they turn to a treasure map in an exhilarating passage that may or may not be a fool’s errand. Mole Man‘s third act doesn’t quite work as well as the sum of its parts, tacking on an adventure that feels somewhat out of place, perhaps because Ron isn’t along for the ride.

Director Guy Fiorita spends time following Ron and his incredible structure, often engaging in good natured banter with his subject. Following a format similar to that of Julie Sokolow’s warm Aspie Seeks Love, the story offers too few answers–while the subject of Sokolow’s picture was an artist with urban support, Ron lives in a rural community and while he has fans, he has few deep friendships. Art in one way or another proves to be a powerful escape as Ron occasionally finds an outlet in demolition and construction, scoring the odd job for a family friend.

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Mole Man is a fascinating, warm and, occasionally heartbreaking film as it pushes towards the looming questions: what will happen now for Ron as the family faces escalating bills (including a $1,000 monthly electric bill for Ron’s back yard structure) and potential liabilities from site visitors? Fiorita approaches the film with a light simplicity employing animation, aerial photography, and candid point-of-view interviews. At times Fiorita’s voice interjects a little too much, perhaps keeping Ron on point, as his knowledge of building materials is quite granular. That is one of Ron’s charms and the film is strongest when we just simply get to hang out and admire the complexity and ambition of the man’s life work.

Mole Man premiered at DOC NYC.


B







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