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The Kingdom of Survival 2011


Distributed by Seventh Art Releasing, 1614 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90046; 323-845-1455
Produced by Slowboat Films
Directed by M.A. Littler
DVD, color, 92 min.

College - General Adult
American Studies, Economics, Education, Labor Relations, Philosophy, Political Science, Social Sciences, Sociology, Women’s Studies

Date Entered: 12/07/2011

Reviewed by Jennifer Dean, MALS student, City Univerity of New York (CUNY Graduate Center)

Director, writer and narrator M.A. Littler packs his bag and travels across America to challenge the “status quo” or the “system” that teachers and authorities have taught him to accept as truth in his documentary The Kingdom of Survival. The film opens with the iconic intellectual societal skeptic and scholar Noam Chomsky who questions the tautology of the current political and economic system in the United States. Chomsky points out that the State is not self-justifying and history tells you nothing. Just because it is the way it has always been does not mean it should continue to be that way – which starts Littler on his adventure to find answers to the meaning of life outside of socially accepted norms.

A literal and metaphorical journey, The Kingdom of Survival, consists of interviews with scholars, authors and various societal skeptics (including author Joe Bagean, Dr. Mark Mirabello, independent radio station broadcasters Ramsey Kanaan and Sasha Lilley, among others). Collages of archival footage underscore their words. Interviews, often consisting of poignant allegories of the subjects’ lives and larger philosophical insights applied to the society at large, are interspersed with beautifully filmed images of the American landscape and philosophical quotes. The poetry of the visual images adds to the dense intellectual concepts of many of the documentary participants. The film doesn’t provide answers either through visual or verbal explication but does ask many questions and invites the audience to do the same. My major criticism would be that the conclusion of the film attempts to wrap up the complexity of the film’s ideas through a rather simplistic overstatement of the final interview subject Will “The Bull” Taylor. A farmer, folk singer, erudite individual and friend to director Littler, Taylor’s life philosophy is beautiful in its simplicity and quite clearly demonstrated through the final images presented of him working on the farm and walking with his wife and child – but excessively verbalized in the actual interview portion. Unfortunately, Taylor lacks the eloquence of the previous interview subjects and doesn’t manage to contextualize his thoughts (and perhaps doesn’t intend to do so). Littler’s voice-over introduction to Taylor is also a little heavy handed (as is sometimes the case with his narration at other points in the film). Nonetheless the film is a journey worth taking.