What is one spurred to do when facing their own mortality? Co-directors Aaron Zeghers & Lewis Bennett evoke this question throughout Danny: a flawed, if immensely personal, 50-minute documentary compiled from a series of low-resolution tapes shot by Zeghers’ uncle, Danny Ryder, following his leukemia diagnosis in 1993. Most of the footage constitutes Ryder monologuing to the camera about his failed relationships, both sexual and paternal. It’s the threat of death, and subsequent study of existential guilt, which spurs intrigue. The film becomes a mirror to reflect our own desires, fears, and transgressions.
Ryder’s accessible, self-reflective philosophy further manifests this sense of the mirror image. This is compounded by the way in which many of his shots are framed: throughout Danny, his face remains the focal point of the shot. When Ryder monologues, his gaze penetrates the delicate line separating audience and subject. The effect is as though we are watching ourselves espouse our deepest existential fears. It helps that Ryder shot most of the footage within intimate, private spaces. The tapes are predominantly shot within the walls of his apartment; the finale places us, perhaps expectedly, at his bedside in hospital.
As to how far this resulting piece reflects Ryder’s intentions when shooting the footage has been the source of some debate, but regardless of individual interpretations, it’s a moving process – if somewhat abrupt in the edit, and left wanting for a more cathartic finish. What is clear from the film’s depiction of the subject is that Ryder was a candid being with a rich creative impulse. Take from that what you will.
While the subject is moving and successfully beckons self-reflection, it lacks the emotional punch to fulfill the catharsis it teases, and is somewhat undermined by abrupt, inconsistent macro editing.
CAST: Danny Ryder
DIRECTORS: Aaron Zeghers, Lewis Bennett
SYNOPSIS: After being diagnosed with leukemia in 1993, Danny picks up a camcorder and begins to create a film, with himself as the central character. The lo-fi Vancouver cityscape reflects back an alienated existentialism as Danny grapples with his personal demons, spurred on in the face of his own mortality.