Evan Crean reviews his favorites from the 2018 Independent Film Festival Boston (IFFBoston).
Read the full recap on The Independent Magazine here.
Society often forgets that prisoners are people—human beings that are the sum of their words and deeds—not a representation of their mistakes, but thankfully Denali Tiller’s documentary Tre Maison Dasan reminds viewers of that. Her film follows on three children (Tre Janson, Maison Teixeira, and Dasan Lopes) as they struggle to grow up with parents who are either current inmates in the Rhode Island prison system or recently released from it, in the case of Dasan’s mother. Tiller’s piece chronicles the challenges that each kid faces in trying to achieve a sense of stability, while also zeroing in on the parents themselves, providing a unique glimpse into the lives of inmates who are trying to be good parents and to become better people.
Tiller concentrates on children who are different ages and come from different situations, which provides a variety of perspectives on the same underlying issue. Tre, the oldest of the group, has it the toughest because his father has been behind bars for a while, he acts out with his mother, and he is starting to get in trouble with the law himself. Maison is doing well in school and thriving but is unsure whether he will leave the East Coast to live with his mother in California or stay with his grandmother until his father’s release. As the youngest, six-year-old Dasan must first grapple with understanding that his mother was in prison and why she was there, before she can start building their new life. All of these situations create their own set of challenges, which Tiller chronicles the families facing.
The seemingly unlimited availability of Tiller’s subjects allows the audience to get much closer to them than traditional documentary subjects, providing unprecedented access to the gutting conversations these parents have with their children. Tiller is a fly on the wall for raw, honest, and at many points, heartbreaking conversations between the families where the parents must talk to their children like adults to discuss life’s harsh realities. Sitting in on these discussions where the parents vulnerably share their remorse, their frustration about being in prison, and their concerns for their children transforms them from people who committed crimes into human beings striving for redemption, the best message as documentary on the subject could convey to viewers, who likely don’t think of inmates on such a personal level.