Beasts of the Southern Wild
Nate von Zumwalt
It may be true that the most memorable fathers in film are those who brazenly renounce their parental duties—or fail in their attempts at patriarchy altogether. Think Jeff Daniels as Bernard Berkman in The Squid and the Whale, a pompous intellectual and the out-of-touch father of a dysfunctional family traversing the treacherous landscape of divorce. Even still, cinema has also provided more than a few samples of admirable parenting, some of which we’ve selected for our Sundance-supported Father’s Day film list below. Cheers to Dad.
The beauty of Josh and Benny Safdie’s 2010 Festival film Daddy Longlegs lies in its immensely unsound but well-intentioned protagonist Lenny (Ronald Bronstein), a divorcé and father of two young boys. The film chronicles Lenny’s two weeks with his sons in New York City as he demonstrates an ambivalent parenting style that hovers between ‘friend’ and ‘father.’ Ultimately, Daddy Longlegs captures the essence of the unconditional love that a father bestows upon his children, even when it’s in the most peculiar of ways.
Actor Diego Luna made his directorial debut at the 2010 Festival with Abel, a heartrending film that vacillates between conflicting tones of agony and inspiring grit. Abel is a charming young boy who is returning home after a stint at the psychiatric ward to treat his mental issues. With his home life absent of a father, and seemingly everyone around him occupied with concern for his well-being, Abel doggedly begins to inhabit the role of ‘man of the house.’ Implausibly, the dynamic at home begins to improve until a man claiming to be Abel’s father shows up unannounced.
Luna’s debut effort offers further credence to the notion that fatherhood is not determined by bloodlines or family trees, but by integrity and love.
Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild creates a cinematic universe just fantastical enough to summon our childlike wonder, but with a plausibility that captivates the intellect and invigorates the soul. The film is set in a Louisiana bayou community where a ferocious six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her temperamental father, Wink (Dwight Henry), prepare for an impending storm that has triggered a community exodus. While Wink’s tough fatherly love at times appears cruel, it ultimately imbues his daughter with the fortitude to survive on her own as his health begins to deteriorate.
Sebastian Marroquin fled to Buenos Aires and assumed a new identity after the death of his father, Pablo Escobar, the ruthless Colombian drug lord. In Nicolas Entel’s haunting documentary, Marroquin embarks on a courageous mission to heal the wounds inflicted by his father’s atrocious crimes. Sins of My Father blends archival and original footage in a riveting documentary that culminates in a remarkable meeting between Marroquin and the sons of two of his father’s most well-known victims.
Rupert Isaacson and Kristin Neff are the parents of Rowan, a young boy recently diagnosed with autism. After initial attempts at conventional therapies, Rupert identifies his son’s predilection for horses as an avenue toward healing and plans a trip to the one known land that merges shamanic healing and horseback riding: Mongolia. What ensues is a poignant story interweaved with moments of pure bliss and crippling heartbreak, and ultimately a jarring depiction of the ever-present struggle the Isaacson family faces. Rupert narrates Michael Orion Scott’s Audience Award winning film with a tender and honest voice as he confronts his son’s disorder with endearing tenacity.