Thursday, June 16, 2016

Father's Day doc: Emily Abt's DADDY DON'T GO explores four guys trying to be good dads

Being marketed as a Father's Day opportunity, the new documentary by Emily Abt (Toe to Toe) entitled DADDY DON'T GO can be recommended mostly if you are looking for something really depressing to view on this manufactured, would-be holiday to honor "dad." The film's subject is two-fold: missing dads and men in prison coupled to the story of four different fellows -- two black men, one hispanic and one white -- all of whom are having major trouble bringing up baby. With almost everything stacked against three out of four of these guys -- only the white one has something approaching a secure place to raise his son -- one can only wonder how and why these subjects were chosen. The choices here certainly make for compelling if frustrating viewing, but as we move along, we can't help but question an awful lot of choices these guys make, as well as some that the filmmaker herself has made.

If one wanted to quickly offer up major differences between how whites and minorities live, you'll certainly find them here. And in this respect, the movie seems truthful about America and the opportunities it presents to the majority of its minorities. But perhaps because Ms Abt (shown at right) wanted to appear non-judgmental (some critics have used this term to describe her doc), she questions nothing we see or hear -- which most thoughtful, discerning viewers will want to do over and over again as the movie unfurls. The most egregious case of this is found when we discover almost halfway along that one of the guys appears to be a criminal who is facing prison for his role in a past mugging. Did Abt not know this? In any case, our suddenly learning this cannot help but change the way we view one of these dads.

As we're told at the film's beginning, Daddy Don't Go was filmed over two years and is the story of four disadvantaged men in New York City trying to be decent fathers against all odds. Then we meet Nelson (above), 26, from the South Bronx, a single dad whose wife was a cocaine addict with no flair for mothering (all our dads seems to have chosen really bad wives or girlfriends), and whose major problem seems to be unemployment. Omar (below), a 34-year-old black man from the North Bronx, has been disabled since childhood (there is no real diagnosis given us here, but since some of his children seem to suffer from this, as well, I am guessing it may be hereditary.) His women -- one abusive, the other incarcerated -- are no help, and so Omar is on disability for himself and his children.

Roy, 28 and shown below, is a white man from Long Island who is clearly from a middle class family. Trouble is, he has been in prison and is finding it difficult to land any kind of job. He is concurrently going for counseling at the Forestdale Fathering Institute, and has, as we will learn, some major issues with his own father (he's living for economic reasons with his son at the home of his parents).

Finally we have Alex, shown below, a 26-year-old black man from Harlem who has recently gained custody of a son whose mother has been deemed an unfit parent. We end up spending perhaps the most time of any with this young man and also perhaps feel the most jerked around by his increasingly what's-next-and-can-we-believe-any-of-this attitude. Ms Abt combines interviews and fly-on-the-wall camerawork with occasional statistics that provide some background but little that I, at least, didn't already know. But can we trust what we see and hear?

In the course of the film Nelson moves to Florida for employment. And then promptly loses it. But did he really lose the job down there simply because he had long hair? And why does a hugely problemed man like Omar keep having kids? Alex is clearly not the man we were initially led to believe (in one scene he is suddenly behind the wheel of a car. Where did this come from?), and only Roy seems to have leveled with us in any way completely. Three of these four talk a good game about fatherhood, yet they don't seem able to play it. But here we get into problems of race and class and history and economics and prejudice and all the rest that Ms Abt refuses to address or perhaps feels it is best to ignore. Being non-judgmental is one thing, but this documentary strikes me as more like sloppy. (Out of all the people on view, your heart will go out most strongly, I suspect, to Omar's daughter Milagros.)

From Pureland Pictures, Daddy Don't Go premieres on Vimeo-on-Demand this coming Sunday, Father's Day, June 19th. You can find it by clicking on this link

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