Great films can come in small packages…
by Martin Hafer
Of all the films I recently watched at the Tampa Underground Film Festival, there were two that packed huge emotional wallops. Both films are best seen with a box of Kleenex nearby and both are small, very low budgeted films that are anything but small in their impact. I’ll be doing a review for the wonderful documentary Code 9: Officer Needs Assistance very soon. Instead, I want to tell you about the other terrific film, Daddy, and why I think you and every teenager and pre-teen needs to see it.
Writer-director Mahmoud Shoolizadeh came to the United States from Iran years ago and one of the few things about America that troubled him was our huge illegitimacy rate and this was his inspiration for making Daddy. However, this film is not a typical sort of film about the problems of teen pregnancy. Again and again, Shoolizadeh chose to avoid formula and the usual clichés you would expect with such a film. The only problem is that he only had a few hundred dollars to work with….yet amazingly he came up with this award-winning and very special film. To get the project made, actors and the film crew agreed to work for free. Apparently, they too felt the project was a more than worthy cause.
When the film begins, you see two very, very young looking kids holding hands and spending time together. Alyssa Marchelletta (Sarah) and Ian Dougherty (Ray) star in the film and look to be about 12 or 13…not the usual sorts of actors you’d expect to be in such a picture because they simply look too young. However, this couple soon learns the news…Sarah is expecting a baby. Seeing children this young dealing with pregnancy is shocking to see in the movie and they are both only kids…kids having kids. However, despite their ages, Marchelletta and Dougherty pull it off and both have won Best Actor and Actress awards at various film festivals (including a Best Actress at this Tampa festival)…a testament both to their acting abilities as well as Shoolizadeh’s ability to elicit such fine performances.
At this point, I assumed I knew where the film would go…and fortunately the film didn’t. Sarah is scared and wants to get on with her life but won’t consider an abortion (the scene where she imagines what this would be life was striking)…but she also refuses to raise a child herself. Ray, on the other hand, is a dreamer. He thinks the couple can raise the child and despite his age, he obtains two part-time jobs and works his butt off to provide for the baby. And, he is truly a good boy and takes the news of the baby in a very unexpected and adult way … though he is very unrealistic about his ability to provide a home for the child. This gets to a part of the film that ripped my guts out. You learn that Ray’s desire to do the right thing is because he lost his parents and is desperate not to have his child grow up without a Daddy. Seeing the boy in the cemetery crying at their graves makes me tear up even as I think about it now. What makes this scene even more amazing is how they did it. You see the camera rise up, up, up above Ray and you wonder how this was done since there’s no evidence of a crane nor helicopter. When I asked the director about this, he told me that an inexpensive drone was used for some of the filming and I met another director at the same festival that also achieved amazingly professional results using one of these machines. I would have to say apart from this shot, the rest of the film was also amazingly beautiful…with great cinematography and a lovely setting along the Georgia coast.
I don’t want to tell you what happens next…it’s really something you need to see for yourself. Suffice to say, Shoolizadeh does not go for a pat Hollywood-style happy ending as realism is what he’s trying to achieve most with this film. And, he was proud when he told me that for once in a movie the boy doesn’t want to weasel out of his responsibility and wants to behave like a man–a rare thing in a film.
My advice is to see Daddy and get your kids to see it as well. Heck, get your neighbor’s kids to see it and your nieces and nephews!! It’s very appropriate for younger audiences–in fact, they are the best ones to see what it would be like to raise a child alone and remove romantic notions I used to see a lot when I was a teacher, that it was somehow cool that teens were raising children. I just wish someone would help Shoolizadeh finance getting this film into schools, churches, temples and other places so that kids can watch it and it can generate some positive dialog. A terrific little film with a big heart. It’s only deficits are that at only 65 minutes and a limited budget, I would have loved to have seen more of the story fleshed out…but understand why this was not possible. See this film!
Full Cast : Ian Doherty, Alyssa Marchelletta, Kenny Logsdon, Karen Overstreet, Barbara Van Fleet, Victor Jones , Crystal Glass Haney, Ryan Murray, Breezy Sharp, Jorgia McAfee, Holly Marie, Luis Costa Jr., Mychal Wayne, Alvin Farmer, Robbie Parrish, Stevie Conway, Paul Piner, Julie Ann Dinneweth, Chad Light, Leanne M. Norton-Parris, Chad Michael Posey, Lanny Smith, Aparna Murthy , Debbie Yates Cato, Miso Agogo, Madalyn Starratt.