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Documentaries about Dads: A Father's Day Roundup

By Tom White

Just in time for Father's Day, we at IDA have scoured the archives for a quintet of docs about dads, both in our lives, and in our hearts and minds; about docmakers and their dads; about fatherhood; and in general, about the complications, challenges, joys and mysteries of what it takes to raise a child. Enjoy!


Courtesy of POV

Quest (Jonathan Olshefski, 2017)

Opening the 2018 POV season this Monday, June 18, Jonathan Olshefski's Quest is a longitudinal tale of a Philadelphia-based working-class African-American family that grapples with the challenges of their hardscrabble North Philly neighborhood. Over the course of the Obama Era—from his election in 2008 through his two terms as US President—the Raineys contend with tragedies and celebrate triumphs—and stay strong and solid as a family. Quest is both an IDA Fiscal Sponsorship Program project and an IDA Pare Lorentz Grant recipient. 

Watch it: POV, iTunes


Daddy & Papa (Johnny Symons, 2002)

Daddy & Papa explores gay fatherhood in four multiracial families. Touching on surrogacy, foster care, the complexities of gay marriage and divorce and the battle for legal adoption rights, the film is a revealing look at how gay dads challenge our conceptions of "family."

Watch it: iTunes, Public Libraries


Courtesy of Independent Lens

Be Good, Smile Pretty (Tracy Droz Tragos, 2002)

Thirty-two years after her father died in the Vietnam War when she was just an infant, filmmaker Tracy Droz Tragos ventured out on a quest of discovery, healing and remembrance. Her investigation into the life of her late father is both a powerful exploration of the long-lasting consequences of war and a deeply emotional journey.

Watch it:  Amazon


Courtesy of POV

Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela (Thomas Allen Harris, 2005)

In the wake of his stepfather's death, Thomas Allen Harris embarks on a journey of reconciliation with the man who raised him as a son but whom he could never call "father." As part of the first wave of black South African exiles, Harris' stepfather, B. Pule Leinaeng, and his 11 comrades left their home in Bloemfontein in 1960. They told the world about the brutality of the apartheid system and raised support for the fledgling African National Congress and its leader, Nelson Mandela. Drawing upon the memories of the surviving disciples and their families, along with the talent of young South African actors who portray their harrowing experiences, Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela tells an intimate story of family and home against the backdrop of a global movement for freedom. 

Watch it: Amazon, iTunes


Courtesy of HBO

51 Birch Street (Doug Block, 2006)

Both unexpectedly funny and heartbreaking, 51 Birch Street is the first-person account of filmmaker Doug Block's unpredictable trek through a whirlwind of dramatic life-changing events: the death of his mother, the uncovering of decades of family secrets, and the ensuing reconciliation with his father. What begins as his own intimate, autobiographical story soon evolves into a broader meditation on the universal themes of love, marriage, fidelity and the mystery of family.

Watch it: Amazon, iTunes