Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 08, 2018 2:58 pm 
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Three boys with parents in jail fare differently

The film focuses on three boys whose parents are incarcerated. It shows their visits to them and spends time with them when elsewhere. At these Rhode Island facilities, fathers are allowed to spend two hours with their kids in an assigned space once a week. Tre Janson is 13, Maison Teixeira is 11, and Dason Lopes is 6.

Maison stands out at first. He is hyper, articulate, and smart. He gets diagnosed with Asperger's, but he seems remarkably sociable and wise with his dad. There is a session when he and his dad sit and ask each other questions that shows remarkable communication and, one feels compelled to say, sanity. Tre has gotten into trouble himself, barely escaping a felony and, violating probation, later facing jail time. He fights with his mom and talks tough. But when first seen visiting his dad, he weeps in his arms like a big baby, and we is like this again later. His mother's problems lead to her death. Dason is just a kid, and he and his cousin, like a sister to him, don't know his mom was in jail till she gets out, and she tells them - but she won't answer his repeated question about what she was in for, promising to tell him later.

Tre is in a group home when his mother dies of a drug overdose. Life seems continually hard for him. His father expresses tremendous shame at having failed his son but declares that he will never give up on the boy or cease to love him. How things are going to go for Tre is uncertain.

Maison's mother has long ago gone to live in California so he rarely sees her, but he chooses not to move there. His "Nana," his grandma, is there for him and a good support. RISE, an organization to aid children of incarcerated parents, provides him with a scholarship to go to a private middle school after he graduates with academic honors from his school. Tre becomes "T.J.," and, still a pothead and hanging with the brothers, he writes and records his own music; he is in a group home still, up for foster care; his father will be up for parole when he's 18. Dason shows immaturity camping as a Cub Scout but (perhaps the presence of his mother is no help in this situation) but at the film's end he has started guitar lessons - and outgrown his spiderman suit.

In this film, Tre is depicted in most detail, Dason the least. Maison's story is the most hopeful. Tiller points out that these kids represent one in fourteen kids in the United States who have an incarcerated parent. This is, of course, an example of how our mass incarceration system endangers the social fabric.

An extension of Denali Tiller’s thesis film at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Tre Maison Dason feels at first as if she has gotten in over her head. But if the sessions in the prison are limited, so are they for the family members,; and that doesn't stop them from being emotional and revealing. Teller has gotten good access, particularly for some of the heart-to-heart talks of the two older boys with their dads in prison sessions, but also for Tre's abrasive relations with his mom. We trust that the editing of many hours has delivered the right feeling of the people and situations. This is a worthwhile film.

Tre Maison Dason, 90 minutes, was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it is having its world premiere. Denali Tiller was an artist named one of Variety's 110 "filmmakers to watch" in 2015.

Sunday, April 8, 2018 at 1:30 p.m. at Dolby Cinema
Tuesday, April 10, 2018 at 8:30 p.m. at YBCA Screening Room
Friday, April 13, 2018 at 3:30 p.m. at Creativity Theater

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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