Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sundance 2009: The Kids Aren't Alright

[Film Fest] Some Sundance "double-features" --like the one I suggested on Friday for Moon and The Clone Returns Home--are kind of fun and silly to contemplate. And then there are pairings like Over the Hills and Far Away and Boy Interrupted that would exist primarily to give any caring parent nightmares.

In Over the Hills, filmmaker Michel Orion Scott chronicles a journey undertaken by writer Rupert Isaacson and his wife Kristin with their severely autistic 5-year-old son Rowan. Drawing from his experience with shamanistic cultures in Africa and Rowan’s affinity for horses, Rupert comes up with a seemingly crazy notion: dragging the entire family to Mongolia to attempt healing rituals with the remote shamanistic natives. The details of the trip are certainly compelling, but even more compelling is the portrait of parents who can begin to reach for desperate measures when they believe their child is in pain. And to the parents’ credit, it always feels more like their efforts are more about Rowan’s pain than their own.

There’s a reasonably happy ending to Rupert’s journey, but not so for the grieving parents who are both the subject and the creators of Boy Interrupted. Documentary filmmakers Dana and Hart Perry tell the wrenching story of their son Evan, who committed suicide at the age of 15. It’s a devastating portrait of a child with bipolar disorder, but the Perry’s manage to tell their tale without ever wallowing in pathos. It always feels more like an attempt to let other parents know that they’re not alone, rather than some guilt-purge. If you are a parent yourself – or maybe even just an empathetic human being – prepare to deal with a lump in your throat. (Scott Renshaw)

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