Figure Father | Dir. Andrew Ellis | 8:57 | USA | English
In January of 2011, I set out to make a short film which could shed light on our country’s job crisis through the story of an ex-convict searching for a job. I was introduced to Pedro through a friend who worked as a fatherhood counselor for ex-convicts in Harlem. Pedro was 49, looking for a job in construction, and willing to share his story with me. With multiple assaults, drug offenses, and two homicides on his record, it wasn’t likely that the outcome of my film was going to be positive, but I knew beneath his hardships his charisma and heart would reach people.
We met for the first time on a snowy day in Harlem. Sitting face to face in a Jamaican restaurant on 125th street, Pedro pointed a chicken wing at me and repeated, “God will hold your hand, but the devil is waiting for you to fall”. This was the first time I’d heard his mantra, and I thought he was talking about his job search.
We became friends over the following weeks through long walks and boxing lessons. In that time he didn’t make it to one job interview given all the complications of transferring medicaid, welfare, and job transcripts from his halfway house to his three quarter house. I wasn’t sure what aspect of his story I could actually convey on film until the day we took a trip to where he grew up, the projects of Hoboken. It was there that I met Tony, his twenty one year old son. I did the math on the back of my PATH train ticket home to realize that Pedro had only been out of jail for four years of Tony’s entire life. It hit me that while this man was in need of a job, his desire to become a father to his son was far more important to both of us.
Over the following months I filmed them box, Tony feeling grateful for the time with his father, Pedro feeling excited that his son might become a professional boxer. All the while I spent time with each of them individually, digging up repressed memories in their relationship, and hitting walls where certain memories had been permanently blocked out. Pedro was severely abused as a child, and raised by the streets. Tony’s father was never there, and also raised by the streets. Coming from a home with two loving parents I proceeded into this foreign territory with caution and sympathy.
Tony became a father during the course of shooting and the training sessions ceased. They stopped spending as much time together, and Pedro refocused on getting a job. This film is a window into a brief moment in their lives in which a new chapter in fatherhood began. Since the completion of the film I connected Pedro with a former prison chaplain who counsels at a church near his home in Harlem. He is still jobless but is on good terms with his son. Tony still lives in Hoboken and his baby girl is nearly six months old.
Puppet | Dir. David Soll | 74min | USA | 2010 | English
Puppet is a feature-length documentary that weaves together a broad look at the fraught history of American puppetry (its marginalization as children's theater and its sudden explosion as high art) with an intimate thread following Dan Hurlin, a downtown artist who is creating a complex puppet work about Mike Disfarmer - an eccentric, Depression-era photographer. Dan has just recovered from a scorching New York Times review, which forced his last show out of theaters prematurely. Now he faces a wider backlash against puppetry, suggesting an eerie parallel between himself and his new puppet-subject - an outsider artist whose stunning body of work was very nearly lost forever.
Q&A with Andrew Ellis and David Soll