2011, NR, 70 min. Directed by Turk Pipkin.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., June 3, 2011
Building Hope deviates somewhat from the modus operandi of local filmmaker and activist Turk Pipkin's prior two advocacy documentaries: 2006's Nobelity, in which Pipkin sat down with nine Nobel Prize winners and picked their brains for their feelings on the state of the world, and 2009's One Peace at a Time, wherein Pipkin traveled far and wide uncovering what people were doing to better that sorry state. This time Pipkin isn't so much looking for answers to global problems as providing one himself, through the work done by Austin-based nonprofit the Nobelity Project, run with his magnetic wife and producer Christy Pipkin. Building Hope tracks the construction of the first-ever secondary school in Mahiga, Kenya, a community the Pipkins previously became involved with while shooting One Peace at a Time. The film is interesting for its focus on a complicated and a challenging process, from design plan and fundraising – and, really, this is a testament to Turk Pipkin's remarkable ability to gather Austin's elite in a room to open their checkbooks – to the practical concerns of how to transport building materials on an unpaved, rained-out road. As in his earlier pictures, the avuncular Pipkin puts himself front and center, but – perhaps because of his intimate involvement with the Mahiga Hope High School construction – Pipkin feels less like a documentarian here and more like a spokesman, especially when he pauses to name-check a second time the project's co-sponsors. Made in association with local outfit Flow Nonfiction, whose mission is to produce "branded documentary content for socially conscious and purpose-driven companies," Building Hope, in its earnest desire to document the good work of a lot of people (on two continents, no less), shies away from mining the inherent drama in the story, under-using, for instance, the sparkiest character here, the expletive-muttering on-site architect who lost 35 pounds over the course of a year. Honestly, it's hard to know if Building Hope should be evaluated as a traditional documentary or as a nonprofit promotional tool. What I do know is this: If you don't well up at least once during this unwaveringly uplifting story, you might be a little dead inside. (See "If You Build It …," April 1, for an interview with the director.)