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  • Hooman Razavi

Through The Night: It Is Not A Job But My Life | 2020 Tribeca Film Festival

Updated: May 1, 2020

By: Hooman Razavi

“Hello all. This is an emergency text…”. A viewer may read this and wonder if this dialogue is taken from a horror film or an action movie, so documentary may not be the first choice coming into mind. Documentary filmmakers as Loira Limbal, by weaving together and narrating texts as above, present slice of social reality, albeit with their own slant. In doing so, they dissect and expose layers and nuances of societies and cultures- American society in this case. The issues that engulf American families in the age of globalization and rising inequalities are many to accurately be portrayed in one film. Nevertheless, Through the Night daringly present the one that affects many namely childcare, affordability and the pressure on women of colour. The film is a discussion opener for critical audience and policymakers for whom this issue may not have been a priority.

Through the Night takes us through the lives of a couple Deloris Hogan (Nunu) and Patrick Hogan (Pop Pop) who run a 24-hour daycare centre. In the past 20 years, they host, at their own house, and provide care for children whose families do not have the time and money to offer an alternative arrangement. Through the stories of two families, from the working-class backgrounds, the documentary depicts the struggles, sacrifices, anxieties of individual characters and at the same time the impact on the young kids who may be touched by more than one motherly experience during the course of the film and their lives.

Film Analysis & Interpretation

Film’s formal analysis can make us to consider how the story is being narrated. In many scenes the major themes of motherhood in crisis, alienation and social inequities are well depicted using combination of imagery, suspenseful use of music and strong dialogues. The opening scene background the house, where Nunu and Pop Pop have their childcare centre. In the coming scenes, the camera takes us into the house and narration is done visually; the kids, pictures on the wall and couple who run the childcare take the centre stage in the

mise-en-scene; this visual evocation is strategic and impactful. The camera then takes us to know the story of Valencia and Tate families, and dialogues and voice-over are integrated into storytelling to narrate the story of these struggling mothers. The rest of the film which has mostly been shot back in the house show how all these characters introduced earlier interact and form a close-knit family. In a sense, the viewers get a full picture of each characters live and why their lives all crossed and led to this point -Marisol’s job shifts and Patrick/Delores love story and their journey till this day. In brief, as much as it seems that Through the Night has more a verite-style but editing, music and cinematography have significant roles in amplifying the themes, thereby imparting a stronger emotional impact on the audience.

In terms of social message and thematic analysis, overtly, the film mediates on the state of family life, motherhood, working-class and women of colour struggles. As presented, Nunu’s house is a 24-hour daycare that is run altruistically for many years. Apart from the families that bring their child to the house, the viewer can visibly sense the toll that running this house has on Nunu and Patrick. Nunu suffers from pain in her hands and Patrick though smiley, looks exhausted in many scenes. In parallel, the mothers- Shanona and Marisol are in the same challenging states and even crying in some scenes. The inspiration for the film as the director expressed in her interview, stemmed out of coming across an article on daycare and personal experience of childhood and being a first-hand witness to challenges of being raised by a single-mother. In following this pursuit, Loira Limbal makes her mission to make this film and after many challenges (initially rejected by the childcare), she finally finalizes the plot centring around Delores Hogan (Nunu). Interestingly, in her interview she also reveals that she is a single mother of two children- 7 and 9; as such making this film and giving power to the powerless is as much a personal mission and accomplishment.

The other dimension that the documentary focuses is the lives of the children. The viewer can clearly see the heavy toll on the lives of mothers, women of colours and Patrick, but could the same be said in terms of how the other protagonists (children) are affected. The one clue comes when Marisol’s elder daughter says, “I don’t want to grow- pay rent.” These innocent words maybe taken literally but she admits that she does not want to be in the shoe of her mother, as much as she may love her, and the storytelling gives us many hints why this could be true of her and Children who are affected by lack of parental presence and engagement. In this regard, one may ask why she may be feeling this way? Is not the house a protective space (bubble) that keeps the hardships away? This maybe implied in the film but psychologically when your mother works two jobs (work till 11 pm), and want a third one to survive, the effects are hard to be unfelt on the children. The social inequities, lack of proper daycare system supporting families, exhaustion and debilitation of Hogan’s families (someone must spirit them up too) are all testimony to the hardship and deeper issues that characters and by extension, American families of these class and racial backgrounds face today. Limbal camera and vision breaks the walls of silence and in her words “flood the popular culture with beautifully complex portrayal of the lives of working-class women of colours so that we have new gazes and new way of seeing ourselves.” In doing so, she highlights the fact that through their resilience and sense of undiluted responsibility, they do their utmost attempt to maintain a loving family unit and a sense of community and need state and government support urgently.

Final Words & Review

Personal inspirations and meticulous observations give life to documentaries as Through the Night. They could take over four years to get off the ground as Loira Limbal, the director noted. Their storyline may change a few times and it may come at personal costs to film crews' family and their social obligations. Nevertheless, the 75-minutes feature and likes can problematize social challenges- cost of daycare in America and experience of women of colour, even for enlightened viewers, who may not have ever considered this issue prior. Strong storytelling and characterizations have made Through the Night to provide ample food for thought and reflection for both socially conscious viewers and film scholars, to underline the power of good documentaries.

Grade: A


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