Opening today: 'Far From the Tree' -- doc on reality of families where kids turn out very different from parents
Director Rachel Dretzin based documentary on Andrew Solomon's acclaimed book: 'It's a film that turns your assumptions about difference on their head'
We live in a world in which scientific advances make it increasingly possible to reduce humankind from colorfully varied to homogenous. Genetic testing already allows prospective parents to avoid producing children with conditions they may consider undesirable, and in the future pre-birth interventions may allow specialists to correct any number of "abnormalities."
But a documentary opening today questions whether a world of increasing uniformity is what we should be seeking. Rachel Dretzin directed Far From the Tree, based on the prize-winning work of nonfiction by Andrew Solomon, who wrote about families with children that manifest considerable differences from their parents. Chapters explored dynamics involving children with deafness, autism, dwarfism, gender nonconformity, Down Syndrome, as well as prodigies and families with kids who committed serious crimes.
It was definitely a rigorous process, convincing him I was the one to make the film.
Far From the Tree opens today (July 20) in New York. Dretzin and Solomon will appear at IFC Center for Q&As following screenings at 5:05pm, 7:25pm and 8:15pm shows both today and Saturday (info here). Director and author likewise will appear on Sunday at Manhattan's JCC for Q&As following the 2pm and 4:30pm screenings (info here). Far From the Tree opens in Los Angeles July 27 and becomes available on streaming platforms that same day.
"Andrew asks in the book, and he asks in the film -- how do we know what to cure and what to celebrate?" Dretzin told Nonfictionfilm.com. "How do we know if being a dwarf is something we should be fixing or something that we should be thrilled about? And it's all a matter of perspective."
She added, "I describe the documentary as a film that turns your assumptions about difference on their head, and makes you realize just how many walls we all put up to people that look and act, behave differently."
Dretzin told us she became aware of Far From the Tree after reading about it in the New York Times Book Review.
"I read the review and was completed gripped by the stories. I have to confess as a documentary filmmaker I immediately thought, 'Wow, this would make an incredible movie,'" she recalled. "And then I read the book and I felt even more strongly about it. I approached Andrew only to learn -- he was very polite about it -- but there like 20 other documentary filmmakers trying to do the same thing. So I had to get in line and try to woo him, which I did. But it took some time. It was definitely a rigorous process, convincing him I was the one to make the film."
Dretzin sees Far From the Tree as a timely film.
"At this moment, for a couple of reasons, it's a particularly urgent message," she affirms. "One obviously being our political climate in which difference seems to be reason for people turning away from each other and building walls and silos and all sorts of things to keep ourselves away from those that are different."
The documentary is one of at least four opening this weekend, including Lauren Greenfield's Generation Wealth; McQueen, directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, and Love, Cecil from director Lisa Immordino Vreeland. This summer has brought phenomenal box office returns for a number of documentaries, auguring well for Far From the Tree.
"I think what you see with Won't You Be My Neighbor? or RBG is that there's a kind of hunger for movies that are not popcorn movies but that make us feel good about who we are as human beings and connected to each other and that represents some of the values we feel are under assault in this country," Dretzin observed. "People are flocking to see those films and it's been really heartening to me... I think what we see is that there's a real market for films like this as an antidote to everything else that's happening."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.