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#HotDocs22 Review: Sam Now

May 6, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 28th to May 8th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Sam Now is a cinematic documentary that has been 25 years in the making. As kids, director Reed Harkness used to make scrappy home movies together with his younger half-brother Sam, footage that provides the backbone of the film. But Sam’s world changed when he was fourteen years old, and his mother Jois walked out on the family. A missing persons report was filed, though all it revealed was that she wasn’t taken against her will, and didn’t want to be contacted by her family. Jois simply no longer wanted to be a mother.

Several years later, Reed and Sam set out in search of her, following vague clues and filming the journey for their most epic film production yet; a road trip in search of Sam’s missing mom. Through a collection of footage captured over the years, Sam Now explores the impact that her disappearance had on Sam and his brother Jared, who had to come of age without having her in their lives, tied together with new footage as the brothers reconcile with their past as adults.

The first stretch of Sam Now, made up entirely of edited together clips from Sam and Reed’s home movies that transition from Super 8 to HD video and are accompanied by voiceover narration from Reed, has a sort of DIY energy to it that is both formally exciting and thematically compelling. If the film loses a bit of this early momentum as it goes on, it still serves as an interesting exploration of childhood trauma and why a mother would choose to abandon her children.

As much as Sam Now explores the impact that Jois leaving had on her kids, it also offers a much thornier and sadder portrait of her and her own past, with Sam trying to figure out what compelled her to pursue another life away from him and his brother. The film offers an engaging and nuanced glimpse into this unique family situation, and a moving reminder of how the choices that parents make impact their kids, in a cycle that continues until someone makes the effort to stop it.

Screenings:

Sunday, May 1st – 5:45 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Thursday, May 5th – 2:45 PM at Varsity 8

The film is also available to stream across Canada for five days starting on May 2nd at 9:00 AM.

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