Hot Docs 2014: Bronx Obama – Documentary Review

Director: Ryan Murdock
Country: USA
Rating: G
Runtime: 91 min

It is not often that a film director strikes gold with his or her first feature film. Many directors require a few trials before they become fully accustomed to the art of moviemaking, and this truth extends to the creation of nonfiction documentaries as well. Ryan Murdock is therefore a director to be celebrated, as is his new documentary Bronx Obama, which premiered at Hot Docs 2014. This piece is an achievement in tone, finding the perfect balance between thought-provoking and entertaining film. Many people around the world have heard of Barack Obama, but few are familiar with the name Louis Ortiz, also known as the “Bronx Obama.” Murdock introduces his audience to this individual in a manner both sensitive and intimate, and few will come away able to quickly forget his story.

Bronx Obama

Louis Ortiz was an average man struggling with unemployment in the Bronx until Barack Obama began making headlines. Once Ortiz realized that he bore an uncanny resemblance to the man running for president of the United States – and that he could make money due to it – he began his career as a political impersonator. Ortiz started dressing, talking, and acting like Obama, moving from street corners to music videos to a full-fledged comedy show with fellow Bill Clinton and Mitt Romney look-alikes, and a master impersonator was slowly crafted. At the heart of Ortiz’s story is his love for his teenage daughter, for whom he works hard so that he can afford to pay for her education. He may look like the exceedingly wealthy president; however, Ortiz’s life is not glamorous, although thoughts of his daughter keep his spirits high even as he struggles to make ends meet.

Bronx Obama benefits from a crowd-pleasing story related at an energetic and snappy pace. The funny and likeable Ortiz himself narrates the film, providing the ideal point of view for his story and allowing the viewer an insider’s glimpse into his thoughts and emotions. The film remains humourous and entertaining throughout, although it does appropriately touch on weighty issues such as impending poverty and comedic racism while avoiding taking any sort of political stance. Genuine emotion arises throughout the film, especially as Ortiz relates to his daughter, as well as suspense, as re-election and the possibility of Obama’s disappearance from office loom. This film is also very funny, as simple shots of men who look like political figures living their everyday lives are often enough to prompt organic laughter.

Bronx Obama

Both Ortiz’s likeness to President Obama and his story are truly uncanny, and by the end of the film, it becomes difficult to determine which shots are of Ortiz and which are of the man he is impersonating. At the premier that I attended, Ortiz took to the stage after the screening to answer a few questions, and I was struck by his humble nature and eloquent speech. Of course, Ortiz was dressed in character, and he treated the audience to an excerpt from one of Obama’s famous speeches as a conclusion. Ultimately, Bronx Obama depicts Ortiz as an average individual who works hard to provide for his daughter. The fact that what he does best is impersonating arguably the most powerful man in the world results in an entertaining and fascinating film from a first-time feature director who certainly proves himself to be one to watch.