Wow, it’s been a really long time since I’ve blogged. I was moving and trying to find a job and generally going insane, but thankfully I’m settled now and my first summer in Ottawa is off to a pretty beautiful start!
As some of you may know, one of my ultimate dreams is to work in documentary film. I want to make films about simple stuff — about regular people who have stories that really blow you away.
That’s exactly what Kimberly Reed’s award-winning personal doc Prodigal Sons is.
Going into the film, I had pictured a quirky romp about a dysfunctional family who learn to pick up the pieces by exploring their family tree (which may or may not include film legend Orson Welles). Boy was I surprised!
Yes, the film was quirky and fun in certain places, (like the slightly uncomfortable scene in a small-town Montana bar where Kimberly, who used to be Paul, was forced to explain to her former high school classmates how it’s possible to physically become a woman but still be attracted to women!). But as the story developed, an important thread emerged highlighting Reed’s brother’s mental illness and her fight to repair their relationship. I got more than I’d bargained for.
Reed is a credit to her profession. She begins her film by boldly exposing her own insecurities about her gender transformation but doesn’t let that overwhelm the even more interesting story that unfolds while she re-visits her childhood home: her brother Marc’s inability to move out from behind the shadow of the young man that Reed never even wanted to be. Prodigal Sons becomes the archive of Reed’s struggle to love Marc for who he truly is; frightening as he can be in his moments of mental and emotional instability.
Along the way, Reed gives a very frank narrative account as she pieces the film’s events together (they span about a year). Her honest script and confessional tone is a refreshing break from the snooty “voice of god” narration we still often suffer through as documentary-lovers.
What is perhaps most amazing is Reed’s stoic commitment to the final product. A friend who accompanied me to the showing was shocked at her persistence, “I can’t believe she just didn’t go back to New York,” he said, “Why didn’t she just leave?!”
Indeed, there are moments throughout Reed’s journey where anyone would have been justified in saying “screw the film” and high-tailing it back to the safety and emotional detatchment of their life in New York City. But Reed won’t quit. She refuses to put her camera down even in the most emotional (and sometimes dangerous) situations because she knows, as her brother says at the end of the film, she’s doing something that will be positive “for the future.”
At the end of this film I felt compelled to write to Reed and thank her. I felt compelled to call my parents and older brother.
There is no such thing as the perfect family. Prodigal Sons reveals the brokenness that lies among the branches of most North American family trees. But it manages to do so without being sensationalist or coming across like a soap-opera. It’s a real account of a real family with real problems — just like we all have. That’s what makes it so good.
Here’s the trailer for Prodigal Sons, I urge you to check your local theatres for showings…just make sure you bring some kleenex.
Watch and Enjoy!