Many documentarians will stumble onto interesting things if they just walk around with a camera and interview enough people, but what separates Josh Belinfante's documentary from these pretenders is that his travels were not without purpose.
Like so many before him, Belinfante was pressured by family to pursue a career with financial gain, but just before graduating as a lawyer, doctors found a large tumour in his lung and heart. Josh was diagnosed with an illness and told by medical professionals that with only a short time to live, he should "stop, stay inside and do nothing". However, after being given a second chance, he finally had the courage and determination to do what he always wanted: make films. And if you're going to make a film, why not make it 'The World's Best Film'? Armed with this newly-found drive to finally follow his dreams, Belinfante figured that if he is now pursuing his passion, surely there would be other people out there in the world doing the same thing.
Delving into the title a little deeper, Belinfante is obviously not trying to out-do 'Citizen Kane', but he is trying to find people from all walks of life who are the best in the world at something - and as is proven throughout the feature, that can really be anything. Dog sitters, puppeteers, cigarette "bummers", banana grillers, luthiers and town planners to name a few; these people excel in their pursuits not for money or fame, but because it's what they want to do. As we learn through Belinfante's lens, their excellence stems most importantly from passion, and secondary is practice.
There are 11 unique individuals we meet along the way and truthfully - admitted by Belinfante himself - a lot of them can be questioned as to whether they really are the best at what they do. Some are impressive, others genuinely fascinating, but all in all they are all just people who are doing what they love, and that's what imperative for Belinfante's recovery. Audiences discover through the journey that while the excellence comes from the passion, even if they aren't the very best in the world at it, at least they can say they have given it their best try. It's a lesson that is important and meaningful, but we probably didn't need to follow 11 different people to get that message across, especially as the core of Belinfante's final musings stem from conversations with his own family.
'The World's Best Film' can feel like a therapy session at times. Belinfante narrates his findings as he takes audiences along for his discoveries, which eventually leads to his peace of mind. He has found people who are living their best life, even if they are not necessarily the best in the world, because one doesn't need to be the best to find happiness. You can still be great, and as his mother tells him with an embrace to impart wisdom, you just need to try your best.
It sometimes feels like there are two different documentaries going on at once, and whilst they don't clash, they don't need to co-exist. On the one hand, the insight into the different subjects Belinfante interviews is interesting, especially the world's kindest cab driver from Bangkok, and the world's best (and I assume only) toilet tour guide in London. But then you also have people like Ivar who grills bananas, or Gabi who's a dog sitter, and it makes the documentary lose its momentum because, let's be honest, those aren't that interesting, nor impressive. On the other hand, we get insight into Belinfante's family and close friends, and there are many lessons to be learned from them, even though they aren't the best at anything. They are the ones who ultimately shape Belinfante, not only in the sense of their nurturing, but in their outlook and history. Somewhere in between everything in the feature is an endearing roots documentary waiting to be seen.
You can still be great, and as his mother tells him with an embrace to impart wisdom, you just need to try your best.
The lessons that Josh is trying to squeeze out of his subjects ultimately come out in spades from those closest to him. The only problem with that is that I left the documentary wanting to hear more about his family, and less about the gothic tailor who lives in Romania. Sure, he's an interesting specimen, but it supports the notion that maybe more research could have been done to find more excellent people. And yet, perhaps it would not have been better for it. It's due to the fact that these people aren't all that amazing in the end that allows for the lessons to be learnt.
Josh Belinfante is an inspiring person, and his story of perseverance is worthy of being heard. He is clearly skilled with a camera, and manages to capture the stories in a dignified and unassuming manner. Some parts felt like a travel show, and the energetic pulse of Stevie the world's best bummer feels out of place, but overall, he earns his therapeutic cleanse. 'The World's Best Film' could have benefited from deeper research or a bigger budget to explore further reaches of the world - but that takes nothing away from what it was able to achieve with limited resources. A skilled storyteller with a director's eye for human stories, Belinfante didn't make the world's best film, but he sure gave it his best try, and that is what's most important.
'The World's Best Film' made me genuinely question the paths I have chosen in my own life. To follow a passion is easier said than done, and you start contemplating on where your time is best devoted. There's not much more you can ask from a documentary than to think introspectively about its lessons, and it clearly imparted those in a meaningful enough manner that I'm still thinking about it.