Too bad there isn’t more of Herman Wallace in this doc.
HERMAN'S HOUSE (Angad Singh Bhalla). 81 minutes. Opens Friday (October 12) at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. See times. Rating: NNN
It's difficult to depict a void cinematically; harder still when that void represents the central character in your story. And while there are plenty of documentaries about subjects who were unavailable to the filmmakers, the best are those that manage to recreate those subjects on the screen. But some docs, however well-meaning, can't paper over the emptiness at their core.
Herman's House should be the story of Herman Wallace, a member of the Black Panthers who was in solitary confinement in Louisiana's Angola prison from the time of his conviction for killing a guard in 1972 until 2008, when he was moved to maximum security. In 2003, when New York artist Jackie Sumell asked Wallace what his dream house would look like, the result was a project dedicated to imagining and designing that space... along with a replica of the 6-by-9-foot cell in which Wallace actually passed his days.
Necessity dictates that director Angad Singh Bhalla spend most of his time with Sumell, but as engaging as she is, the movie suffers from Wallace's absence; he's heard in a phone interview and glimpsed in a few old photos. We're supposed to feel that vacancy, of course, but Bhalla struggles with it more than he should.