Sundance 2019: Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins

A still from Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins by Janice Engel, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Robert Bedell.

Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins profiles the late political columnist who was willing to raise hell but also have some fun along the way.

There is no better way to present Molly Ivin’s story than by allowing Ivins herself to tell it like it is.  While Ivins may no longer be with us, she is able to tell her story by way of archival footage.  There’s a lot of archival footage mixed in with contemporary interviews.  This allows us a way to hear her own story in her own words but also from friends and family members who knew her.  This allows for a lot of humor along the way because he sure had a knack for humor.

There were newspapers who outright refused to print Ivins’ column because of having a strong political disagreement.  This didn’t stop Ivins.  No, she just went about doing the job.  Sure, she may have rubbed editors the wrong but here’s a woman who knew what it meant to be a journalist.

“One went into journalism not to get rich or famous,” Ivins says during an archived interview.  “Nobody ever thought you could rich or famous working for the newspaper.  You went to work for the newspaper because you could have fun and do good and raise hell and learn all the time.  It was a lot better than selling shoes or insurance.”

She joined her grandmother and mother by becoming the third generation to attend Smith College.  It’s through her brother, Andy, and sister, Sara, that we are able to get stories of her upbringing.  There are a number of childhood friends who talk about growing up with the journalist.

There’s her friendship with late Texas governor Ann Richards.  Cecile Richards shares memories of her mother’s friendship with Ivins.  She would describe both of them as a “rare breed of Texas women” and both just happen to be funny.

An Ivins documentary would not be complete without discussing the “gang-pluck” incident.  These are words that somehow found a way into the New York Times when Ivins wrote about a “community chicken-killing festival.”  As one can possibly imagine, this didn’t sit well with Times editor Abe Rosenthal.  While the Times may have had her on a tight leash after this, Ivins would take an offer to return home and write for the Dallas Times Herald.  They gave her “absolute freedom.”

Even though she passed away in January 2007, Molly Ivins’ writing is still very relevant today.  One can only wonder what kind of things she would say about the person sitting in the White House today.  Outside of the late night comedians, there may not even be a journalist who could be able to tackle such scathing commentary in the same witty way as Ivins.  If there’s any hope, Raise Hell should inspire more journalists to act similar to Molly Ivins.  We need people like Ivins now more so than ever today.

DIRECTOR:  Janice Engel
SCREENWRITERS:  Janice Engel, Monique Zavistovski
CAST:  Molly Ivins, Rachel Maddow, Dan Rather, Cecile Richards, Ann Richards, Jim Hightower, and The Ivins Family

Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins will hold its world premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the Documentary Premieres program. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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