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Review - How's Your News?

July 25th, 2004

You just need to read the description of How's Your News? and you know you are in for something unusual. The film is a documentary / road movie about five reporters with mental and physical disabilities, (Robert Bird, Sean Costello, Susan Harrington, Larry Perry and Ron Simonsen) who travel across the country conducting man on the street interviews along the way.

Obviously with a premise like that there's a lot a room for this film to be offensive or exploitive. But when I learned that the film was being executive produced by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, any fears that this film would be taking advantage of the corespondents was greatly reduced.

Yes, I said reduced. And yes, I am talking about the same Trey Parker and Matt Stone who did South Park, which is considered by many to be one of the most offensive shows on TV. Two episodes of South Park stand out as reasons I was less concerned: Conjoined Fetus Lady and Timmy! 2000. Both of these episodes have some people trying to protect the disabled from ridicule, but who were in fact defining them solely on the basis of what made them different. The point of those episodes was that people with disabilities are best served by being treated as human beings. That was what I was expecting from this movie; and for the most part, that is what I got.

For me, the interviews were more about the reactions of the interviewees than the questions being asked and these reactions varied. On the negative side there was a lot of people simply avoided the members of the How's Your News? team, and in at least one case there was definite panic, and I found some of these scenes uncomfortable to watch. But fortunately, there were many people who were a lot more accepting. In this respect, it was the non-interview scenes that were highlights as the gang visited some roadside attractions like a Gator farm in Hot Springs Arkansas, or the Grand Canyon.

There are some problems that will keep this film from ever reaching anything besides a niche market. Right off the bat, the whole concept will keep most people away from the movie, and that's probably for the best as those who might be inclined to make fun of the How's Your News? team will probably never watch the film. However, the film does move slowly at time and some of the scenes went on a longer than necessary. One scene in particular stands out, and that was the scene in which filmmakers put Larry Perry, who has advanced cerebral palsy, on a street corner and filmed peoples reactions. The point was made quickly and the scene could have ended sooner.

The documentary itself is just over 80 minutes long, but there are plenty of special features that are, in total, as long as the movie itself. Highlights include the Short documentary that led to the creation of the movie and a behind the scenes look at How's Your News? and Camp Jabberwocky, where the members of team first met, done by the IFC show, Split Screen. There were also two longer interviews, the first with Ron Simonsen interviewing his idol Chad Everett and the other with Susan Harrington and Sean Costello interviewing Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

How's Your News? is the single most unique viewing experience I've had in quite some time. It is so unique that if you have never seen the film but are interested in independent films or documentaries I would recommend renting it. If you were one of the few that was able to see the film in the theatres or saw it on HBO and enjoyed this experience, then the DVD is a great presentation and worth buying, as it's very reasonably priced for an independent film.

One final note, The Numbers and Shout! Factory will be holding a contest very shortly to give away two copies of How's Your News? Stay tuned for details.

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