Inmates, addicts, and fortune hunters
Denali Tiller’s documentary, “Tre Maison Dasan” (2018), is named after three Cranston, R.I., boys who, like 1.7 million American children, are growing up with a parent in prison.
Tre, 13, has not adjusted well. He fights with his mother and is angry at his absent father. A brief close-up of his ankle bracelet indicates he is at risk of sharing his dad’s fate.
Maison is amazingly articulate for an 11-year-old and has a dry sense of humor. He is also on the autism spectrum. During a visit to the prison his father ruefully explains that he was indeed responsible for the death of his victim.
Dasan is a sweet boy of 6. His mother, on parole, is tortured by the prospect of telling him that the “school” she was away at was in fact a prison.
In her first feature, Denali observes the conflicts and resolutions in her subjects’ lives, masterfully maintaining both their point of view and a critical distance which questions a system that tears families apart.
“Tre Maison Dasan” can be seen on PBS’s “Independent Lens” on April 1 at 10 p.m. (check local listings) and will also be available simultaneously for online streaming at www.pbs.org.
Gold mine I
“The way to make money,” the great American capitalist John D. Rockefeller once said, “is to buy when blood is running in the street.” That quote opens Pat McGee and Adam Linkenhelt’s documentary “American Relapse” (2019), the inspiration for Vice Media’s TV series “Dopesick Nation.”
But in Delray Beach, Fla., “the rehab capital of America.” another bodily fluid might be more appropriate.
Regulations are so lax that a single urine test goes for thousands of dollars. Rehab centers demand tests from their addicted clients several times a week until their insurance runs out. Relapses are profitable and frequent.
So-called “junkie hunters” round up customers and get paid a big bounty for each one they coax into treatment. Those who can’t pay end up on the street and resort to prostitution and petty theft to pay for their next fix. Deaths by overdose overwhelm the police and medical services and rape and assaults are frequent. Scars cover the body of one of the subjects in the film: One day punks doused him with something flammable, set him alight, and laughed as he burned.
Some try to make a difference in this outpost of hell. Frankie, 38, himself a former junkie , with a fragile hold on sobriety, runs a service with his dedicated, long-suffering mother (the company’s name includes an unprintable epithet and the word “heroin”). Allie, 28, has been clean for 10 years and has a firmer grip on her sobriety. The two have dedicated themselves to helping those less fortunate, addicts otherwise doomed to abuse, exploitation, and an early death.
McGee and Linkenhelt follow this pair for 72 hours as they scour the streets, alleys, flophouses, and vacant lots of Delray Beach for lost souls, some of them personal friends, and coax them into trying rehab one more time. Though the film’s style can be glib, the content is dire. As is noted in the epilogue, more Americans die from overdoses in a year than were killed in the entire Vietnam War. There aren’t many happy endings in what Frankie calls “The Relapse Capital,” not even for those trying to help others.
“American Relapse” is available on VOD on April 2 from iTunes, Google Play, Vimeo, Amazon and other platforms.
Gold mine II
Stuart Harmon’s “The Money Stone” (2018) opens with a picturesque long shot of the lush greenery of a valley in western Ghana. Then it cuts to the harsh reality in the open. Young men sleeping on the bare ground awaken to work another day for ruthless illegal entrepreneurs mining “the money stone” — gold, which has skyrocketed in value and is used in probably every electronic device you own. These youths descend barefoot and spider-like down a crude hole and deep into the earth, where they chip at stone with primitive tools in search of the elusive metal.
In such struggling agricultural areas this is the fate of thousands of young men and children who are sometimes the only providers in their family. They face a life of tedious labor earning a pittance, a life often cut short by accidents or poisoning from mercury and other toxic chemicals.
A lucky few, like teenage Maxwell, manage to break away from this servitude and attend school in hopes of getting a good job. Others, like Justice, are stuck in the mines. Their best bet is the advancing in the ranks to less menial positions in the exploitative mining business. Harmon depicts with empathy and insight a world where capitalism has taken a turn for the worse.
“The Money Stone” screens as part of the Salem Film Fest (March 29-April 4 ) at Peabody’s Black Box Theater on March 31 at 5 p.m. The filmmaker will participate in a question-and-answer session after the screening.