Shot over four years in Laos, Anna Rodgers’s feature-length documentary debut follows two 11-year-old cousins facing very different journeys. Leh enters the rarified air of a Buddhist monastery for training as a novice, while Bo lingers in crowded schools while his parents go to extremes to earn a living. A Hoop Dreams on the Pacific Rim, Today Is Better Than Two Tomorrows quietly captures the series of events that happen to (more than are chosen by) a boy in preparation for a young adulthood in religious seclusion. The film’s strongest feature is the vividness with which it presents the storm of competing emotions: playfulness, loneliness, peace, a boy’s fear at being thrust into a ritual world much larger than the one he has always known, and their added fear of knowing that neither child will return to the places where he grew up.
The film has deep stylistic roots in classic point-and-shoot docs, offering a textbook nonfiction rendering of a parallel coming of age. Perhaps it is a little too meditative for its own good: The slow rhythm of watchful long takes under a haunting pipes and piano score tracks the progression of Leh and Bo from inseparable friends to struggling individualists on the doorstep of adulthood with a deliberation easily on par with that of its monastic subjects. Still, intervening in only a few occasions to ask questions or add a title-card quote by Buddhist visionaries including Thích Nhất Hạnh, Rodgers relies on and finds very real emotions in the boys’ faces; a brief, nervous glance at the camera by Leh during his initiation as a novice is particularly poignant. And with a title that ties with I Am Secretly an Important Man as the most enticing at the festival, Today Is Better Than Two Tomorrows is a confident and elegiac first entry by a filmmaker on the rise.
The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival runs from April 8 to 11.