Directed by Jasmine Dellal
Opens April 21
First-time filmmaker Jasmine Dellal knows that it can be hard to dispel myths without in some way reinforcing them, especially when approaching a culture from the outside. Her documentary, American Gypsy, focuses on what Edward Said has called the only ethnic group about which anything can be said "without challenge or demurral." The Rom (the proper term for Gypsies) are dispersed yet insular and lack a written language, leaving them open to either unabashed racism or romantic mystification. The film presents a chilling history of persecution, slavery, and genocide; the Rom generally regard gadje (as they call all non-Rom) with suspicion. Dellal focuses on Jimmy Marks of Spokane, Washington, one of the only Rom who will return her phone calls. Embroiled in a civil suit against the city over an unlawful search of his house, Marks is something of a local celebrity. Though the police clearly proceeded illegally and offended Romany beliefs about privacy, his obsession with the spotlight sometimes undermines the narrative of injustice. Dellal avoids sensationalism and editorializing, but her portrait lacks intimacy and a knack for finding productive contradictions. The most fascinating character is Jimmy's mother, Lippie. When Dellal calls her on a fib, Lippie proclaims, with a twinkle in her eye, "There is no truth." The meaning is clearnot that truth doesn't exist, or is relative, but only that the full truth can never be communicated to Dellal or us. As a Rom proverb says: "The deer in the forest is under no obligation to justify his existence to the hunter."