Hot Docs 2014: The Starfish Throwers – Documentary Review

Director: Jesse Roesler
Country: USA, India
Runtime: 83 minutes
Rating: G

Over the course of 4 years, Jesse Roesler gathered footage from different parts of the globe that documented people making an enormous difference in their communities. A luminous window into the lives of true local heroes, this documentary is sure to leave the spectator with the feeling that they too can make a change in the lives of those around them.

The Starfish Throwers

The Starfish Throwers documents the lives of Narayanan Krishnan, an Indian chef who feeds people living on the streets with food prepared by himself and is building a shelter for the homeless, Katie Stagliano, an American girl who plants her own gardens in order to donate the crops to food banks, and Mr. Law, a retired schoolteacher who has distributed Sandwiches for the hungry for numerous years. Although they are each battling poverty and hunger in their own ways, the documentary brings their stories together to show their common themes, and how these acts of kindness all resemble one another, despite them being instigated by completely different individuals in different geographical locations and social situations.

It is very interesting to be able to witness the lives of such different individuals all in the same documentary, as it significantly expands the scope of the work, and it allows not only for a visual dynamism, but for variety and content that serve to inform and entertain the viewer. The tone of The Starfish Throwers is generally very optimistic and bright, and although it is obvious that the people affected by hunger lead incredibly difficult lives, the film deals with the matter in a proud way, while showing that there are resilient individuals who refuse to stand back and conform. The way in which the stories are tied together is very interesting, using narrations from one person to describe something that is happening somewhere else. This not only makes it obvious that all these stories are related, but they show the creativity of the documentary and it makes the whole experience more diverse and meaningful for the viewer.

The Starfish Throwers

The documentary follows the three heroes in different ways. With Narayanan it documents his journey waiting for his shelter to be done. Katie shows how backlash and hatred have not affected her work, and the camera follows Mr. Law as he struggles with his health and the way this will affect the work he does on the streets. Although these three stories do have enough content to fill a lengthy film, it does feel repetitive sometimes, both in imagery and content. Many of the shots and reflections, especially in Katie’s story seem to repeat over the course of the whole documentary, and it detracts the attention of the viewer, making the message a little less special as the film progresses. The overall feeling is still inspiring, but it becomes a tad monotonous at times.

The Starfish Throwers relies on its three main individuals to tell the essentials in the story, there is no fancy editing or fancy shots, but each shot is taken with care and it becomes a bright and earnest portrayal of the impressive actions of the individuals the film centers around. It is not only a celebration of food as something essential in the lives of all humans, but it becomes a celebration of how people can come together and use food in order to show the best aspects of human interaction, which are every day strengthened by solidarity, empathy, and of course, compassion.