When I’m a Moth (IMDb) is a film from directors Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak, re-imagining the summer of 1969 in the life of young Hillary Rodham. An entry in the recent San Francisco Film Festival (SFFILM), this most interesting indie film was inspired by a line or two in Hillary R. Clinton’s memoir.
An outstanding graduate of Wellesley College, young Hillary chose to work in a blue-collar job before entering Yale Law School. Little is known about that summer, so the co-directors were free to imagine influences and dreams, as well as attitudes forming in the inquisitive mind of this singular youth who graduated at the top of her class.
Set in Alaska but filmed in western Canada, the movie shows Hillary working in a fish cannery – physically demanding work as she guts fresh fish on an assembly line. She is not unique in choosing this activity. Many college students select this summer employment to earn tuition money quickly, or to pay rent.
Addison Timlin truly shines in the role of young Hillary. Not only is the physical resemblance remarkable, but also there is Timlin’s ability to capture the musings of a brilliant student, already socially conscious, about to embark on a new career.
So what happens during this off-the-grid summer? Anything the directors wish to happen. And the tale they envision is intriguing, and is filmed beautifully. Co-director Zachary Cotler wrote the script, and captures very well the combination of intelligence and immaturity at the ripe age of 21.
Lyn Moncrief handles the cinematography splendidly: Driftwood on the shore, snow-capped mountains in the distance, haunting sunrises and sunsets, rushing waters, fishing boats in harbor, shipwrecks from stormy weather, and a fishing village destroyed by storms and never rebuilt. Even Hillary and the two itinerant fishermen are viewed through the prisms of water.
A solitary person by nature at a young age, Hillary forms friendships with two itinerant fishermen. The older one is Mitsuru, played by Toshijo Takeshima. The younger fisherman is Ryohei, played by T. J. Kayama. They drink together as a form of companionship – whiskey and vodka. The men speak in philosophical terms in keeping with their lives and experience. She speaks in political terms, already seeing the world as a battleground between political opposites, based on her experience.
She speaks in political terms, already seeing the world as a battleground between political opposites, based on her experience.
At home in the evening she reads “Remembrance of Things Past” (volume not specified), and writes letters in cursive to her parents. During the day she is challenged by the rigors of her work in the fish cannery. At night she drinks and talks with Mitsuru and Ryohei. Parallels and comparisons are drawn, and shift, as their conversation shifts. Is it impossible for them to understand each other? Buddhist vs. Christian? Maybe not.
Long-time partners Cotler and Zyzak have created a fascinating film. Watch it with an open mind, and you will enjoy it. And recall that Cotler and Zyzak said in a press conference after the film, that any time now a retired fisherman will come forth and say he was Mitsuru or Ryohei in young Hillary’s life!