Rating: Not Rated
Robert Bird as Reporter
Sean Costello as Reporter
Susan Harrington as Reporter
Larry Perry as Reporter
Ronnie Simonsen as Reporter
Commentary by the entire cast
The original pilot
Foogate of festival appearances and Q&As with the cast after screenings in Toronto, New York, L.A., and Amsterdam
IFC’s vanguard show, Split Screen, goes behind the scenes at HYN?
NPR’s This American Life talks to director Arthur Bradford and to reporters Ron Simonsen and Sue Harrington
Reporter Ron Simonsen interviews actor Chad Everett
An interview with Matt Stone and Trey Parker conducted by the HYN? reporters
Running Time: 82 Minutes
This film was originally released in 1999.
In this documentary, a group of five mentally and physically handicapped people are taken on the road as roving reporters. As they travel from the East Coast to the West Coast, they stop at random attractions along the way and conduct “man on the street” interviews. Highlights include stops at an alligator farm in Arkansas, a cattle auction in Amarillo, the Grand Canyon, and more.
The reporters include: Ron Simonsen, a die-hard soap opera fan with cerebral palsy; Susan Harrington, a slightly retarded and legally blind woman who loves to sing (generally off key and loudly, but with heart); Sean Costello, a man with Down’s syndrome that’s unable to speak clearly; Larry Perry, a man with advanced cerebral palsy; Robert Bird, another young man with Down’s syndrome. The group receives a wide variety of responses from their interviewees and you can always count on them asking off the wall questions. And occasionally their “normal” interviewees are more unusual than the reporters themselves.
How’s Your News? is not rated.
When I first heard about “How’s Your News?”, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew the basic premise, but I was fully expecting the film to make fun of people with handicaps rather than show them as normal people. The fact that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone executive produced it reinforced that preconception. As I started watching the film, I thought I saw my fears being realized. The creators wheeled Larry Perry out to a street corner and simply left him there with a microphone. He was unable to move and unable to speak and everybody walked by him and ignored him. They simply left a camera on him filming people’s reactions. They did the same with Sean Costello. He would walk up to people with a hidden camera, mumble at them incoherently, and they would uncomfortably walk away from him. Those scenes really made me feel that these people were being exploited by the creators for cheap laughs.
But after watching more of the show and seeing the extras on the DVD, I got a better feel for what they were trying to do. Director Arthur Bradford worked at a camp for adults with disabilities and this was an exercise that they would occasionally do. The camper reporters would walk up to strangers on the street and interview people. And rather than talking down to these people with mental disabilities, the interviewees would talk with them like real people. That camp exercise blossomed into the idea for this documentary. Putting the film in that context and knowing that the creators had noble intentions, it made it a bit easier to accept How’s Your News?. Getting past worries about exploitation was a major hurdle in watching this film.
Once you got past the novelty of the type of reporters, it’s actually a fun road trip film. I found myself interested in their visit to the alligator farm, their picking up a hitchhiker, the visit to the Grand Canyon, and more. It’s reality TV with a slight twist. I found myself enjoying the segments at the oddball roadside attractions more than the awkward interviews on the street in the big city.
Despite the noble intentions and good message of this film, there are a few scenes that could easily comes across as being mean spirited. For example, in one scene the creators take Larry Perry and roll him down a hill in a graveyard. In other scenes they focus way too much on Ron Simonsen’s obsession for a soap opera star Chad Everett. (He even has a shirt with the actor’s name airbrushed on it.) In another scene they send Sean Costello with a hidden camera up to a street preacher yelling out a hellfire and brimstone sermon. It’s almost like they were waiting for the guy to brush Costello off for dramatic footage. All these scenes in front of the wrong audience could easily be taken as mean spirited mocking of the reporters.
Fortunately, though, people that are inclined to make fun of “How’s Your News?” will probably never even watch it. Those that do choose to see it will probably get out of it what they go in looking for. If you’re looking for an uplifting film about those with disabilities, you’ll find it. If you’re looking for a good road trip film, you’ll find that, too. If you go in looking for something offensive, you’ll probably find that as well whether it’s there or not. In any case, it’s a decent documentary and something that I normally wouldn’t have taken the time to watch.
There are quite a few extras included on this DVD. Here are some of the highlights:
The original pilot In order to see if the idea would really work, the creators went and did a quick and dirty version of the show. The video is rougher, the music isn’t polished, and it’s not quite as good looking as the full film, but the heart of it is still there. It definitely proved the concept would work and it got them the money they needed to make the film.
Foogate of festival appearances and Q&As with the cast after screenings in Toronto, New York, L.A., and Amsterdam Numerous clips of the cast and crew going to film festivals is shown here. You see the reporters getting up in front of the audiences, briefly speaking, and then jetting off to the next appearance. It gives you a better idea of the audience reaction to the film. Concerts where the reporters sang some of the songs about the cities are also shown.
IFC’s vanguard show, Split Screen, goes behind the scenes at HYN? This excellent documentary gives more background on the filmmakers as well as just how the show came about. You see the camp that the reporters became friends at and you hear how the idea for the show started. It gives a little more insight on what the creators were trying to do with the film.
NPR’s This American Life talks to director Arthur Bradford and to reporters Ron Simonsen and Sue Harrington This is an audio only interview with the creators and reporters from the show. I didn’t listen to the whole thing, but it was a favorite interview of the creators.
Reporter Ron Simonsen interviews actor Chad Everett After the film was made, soap actor Chad Everett met up with his #1 fan for this interview. It’s a funny and touching look at this actor making a guys dream come true. It’s a nice bookend to the film.
An interview with Matt Stone and Trey Parker conducted by the HYN? Reporters – Robert Bird and Susan Harrington interview the South Park creators about their cartoon, How’s Your News?, and just about anything else that enters into their minds. Stone and Parker seem up for the interview and seem genuinely nice about it.
The Bottom Line:
If you’re into documentaries, reality TV, or independent films, this may be one worth checking out.