Doc Stars of the Month: Nunu and Patrick Hogan, 'Through the Night'
Before the coronavirus crisis, the “essential worker”—flexible shorthand for the anonymous, hardworking, underpaid populace that allow our country (and all countries) to function—was hidden in plain sight. But with this sudden awareness that not just healthcare professionals, but also everyone from factory workers to grocery store employees are putting their lives on the line for little acknowledgment and even less financial renumeration should come some collective soul-searching.
Fortunately, there’s Loira Limbal’s Through the Night to spur us on. In her Tribeca-premiering (and IDA Enterprise Documentary Fund Grantee) doc, Limbal, an Afro-Dominican filmmaker and DJ—and Senior Vice President of Programs at Firelight Media—follows two working mothers and their trusted caregivers, Deloris “Nunu” and Patrick Hogan, whose lives intersect at the 24-hour childcare center the Hogans founded and run in New Rochelle, New York. And through these individual heartfelt stories, we’re treated to both a “love letter to single mothers and caregivers” (as Limbal has described her film) and a wakeup call. Yes, we as Americans are truly blessed that private citizens like the Hogans have stepped up to fill in a glaring gap in the social safety net. But what does that say about us, when we in the richest country in the world blithely rely on folks like the Hogans, a couple barely making ends meet, to keep the children of those barely making ends meet physically safe and emotionally healthy?
So to provide some answers, Documentary turned to the knowledgeable providers themselves. And we’re truly honored that Nunu and Patrick Hogan agreed to take time away (albeit with multiple children competing for attention in the background) from their literally round-the-clock schedule to be featured as our December Doc Stars of the Month.
DOCUMENTARY: So how did you initially meet Loira and her team—and subsequently agree to let them into your lives with a camera?
NUNU HOGAN: Loira gave me a call. She was asking about 24-hour daycare—and if I was interested in sitting down and talking to her and doing a documentary. I told her I’d give her a call back, to let me talk with my husband about everything. So I spoke with him, and I thought it was kind of a good idea to let everybody know exactly what 24-hour daycare’s all about. What the parents have to go through with dropping their children off, with leaving them overnight and half of the day. Sometimes people give parents such a hard time for working like that. But they’re working like that for a reason. They’re not enjoying it; they have to. I definitely wanted to get that point out there. So I asked Loira to come to the house, and we had a long conversation. She’s such a sweet person and she just put everything out on the table for me. Even if I’d wanted to say no, I couldn’t; she’s just so sweet.
D: Were you—and/or your clients—at all wary, though? How did everyone come onboard?
NH: Once we’d all agreed the parents have to sign a release form, that’s the first thing we did. When I talked to the parents and explained to them what was going to be going on, what was actually going to be filmed, they said, That sounds okay, as long as the kids are going to be safe. They definitely just wanted to keep the kids safe.
The people that came out to film, they was very respectful of the kids, and very respectful of me and my family, and respectful of the daycare altogether. Some of the parents would be like, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me they was coming today! I didn’t get my hair done!” or “I didn’t wear my dress today.” It was like, Oh my goodness, guys.
D: I guess everyone was comfortable because they trust you.
NH: Yes, they do. They know I’m not going to put their children in any kind of situation where there’s going to be a problem or they’re going to be hurt. Or they’re going to see something that they shouldn’t be seeing, or hear something they shouldn’t. This is something that we do even if we didn’t have a camera in the house. We don’t put the children in harm’s way.
D: So what ground rules were set for filming? What was actually off-limits to the camera?
NH: Well, I wanted everybody to see exactly what went on in the daycare. I didn’t want nothing changed. And I have parents in my daycare that come every day, so if I change anything they will go, “Deloris, you know, you don’t do that.” I don’t want nobody to think anything like that.
As for setting ground rules, when I first spoke with Loira we sat down and had the conversation. She put the focus on making sure not to do anything that will harm the kids, or make them nervous or anything.
D: How long were they actually filming? What was the schedule like?
NH: It was years, almost three years.
D: How many days a week? Was it seasonal?
NH: It was some days of the week, and it was definitely seasonal. We had Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s. We did Halloween. A little bit of everything, so it was all the way around the clock.
D: Were you even aware that the camera was there?
NH: In the beginning we was aware of the camera. But still, like I said, we never did any changes. We still did our work. After awhile it became comfortable, so we just totally forgot about it.
D: It sounds like the crew almost became part of the family.
NH: They really did, honestly. When my sister was going through cancer, one of the camera crew’s family members was going through cancer—and we actually hugged each other and cried together about the situation. So we did end up with an extended family after this was over with.
D: You are faced with a number of challenges—and blessings—throughout production. So which scenes do you find most difficult to watch?
NH: When I got sick, that kind of bothered me a little bit to see that. I’m the type of person who takes care of everybody. I don’t want nobody to know that somebody had to take care of me.
So that kind of got to me a little bit. But only because I’m that type of person who is the giver all the time. I’m not the one that receives. I needed help, and thank God for my family—and the parents. They overwhelm me. They would bring food to my family, help with the daycare. I felt so helpless because I couldn’t be around the kids for a while because I wasn’t sturdy on my feet yet. Being away from the kids and hearing them laughing and playing got to me a little bit.
D: I think it’s an important piece of the film as well because you showed your vulnerability and strength at the same time.
NH: Actually, it let me see myself. You never really see who and what you are because you’re so busy. I actually got a chance to see myself as a person.
D: Was that weird?
NH: It was weird. It was really weird. But nice at the same time. You know, I never thought something like this would happen to me.
D: So which scenes are your favorite?
NH: I loved when we did the prom for the girls. We do proms, we do graduations, we do a little bit of everything. All my parents always rally around and help me and stuff. I love those things. I love watching my family interact with the kids. I love the parades.
So there’s just a lot of things that I love. And I actually got a chance to see for myself how we are running the daycare. It made me proud. You always think you’re doing something that you shouldn’t, that you should be doing better. Of course we can always be better. I tell my husband that we should do this, we should do that. And he’s always telling me everything is fine, that we’re doing great. The parents are happy, the kids are happy, they’re learning. They love us, we love them. So I actually got the chance to see that we are doing a pretty good job and I’m really proud of us.
D: It’s truly a portrait of heroes. And yet watching the film I also found myself quite embarrassed for America. The childcare crisis in this country—the fact that private citizens like yourselves are even necessary to keep children safe—is just downright shameful. So is this something you think about?
NH: I do. I’ve thought about it for years and years. I think about it because, number one, the parents. You’re out there, you’re leaving your little newborn, some of them newborn babies. You’re leaving them here with us. We’re watching them grow, we’re doing everything. We call you and tell you when they first walk. I’ve had mothers break down in tears when I would say, “Oh my God, he walked,” or “Oh my God, he said a word.” They’d just break down. So then I learned not to say anything to the mother. I just let the parents see it for themselves. I pretend like it didn’t even happen here.
They miss so much of their child’s life of growing up, and it’s not their fault. It’s the way everything is set up. You know, they’re working two or three jobs, coming in late at night, and some of them still not even making enough money. Me and my husband, even now, we’re doing the Christmas gifts and stuff for the children because some of the parents are still not pulling in enough money to do Christmas for their children. So we always put the Christmas box out there.
Honestly, I wish I could go to sleep, that I could close at 6:30 at night or 5:30. But then where would these kids go? Because there’s a need. There’s nurses, there’s people that work in grocery stores, Walmart, Amazon, almost everywhere you go. There’s policemen and correctional officers who need for their child to be in a place where, Okay, Mommy can’t be here, but you still can be loved like Mommy loves you. Not as good as Mommy can love you, but you going to get the best. They go to work and they don’t worry, Are my babies alright? They know they’re like me and my husband’s grandkids.
D: So have you thought about using your voice and the film to push for some governmental changes?
NH: Well, for that I’m going to let my husband go on, because at one time we didn’t even have a union. The union came to us, and me and my husband helped start a union for the childcare providers. My husband’s around them more than I am. I’m hands-on. He goes and does all the business for me.
PATRICK HOGAN: Yeah, so the childcare providers in New York have a union; it’s called VOICE. We’re a member of the Civil Service Employees Association. CSEA does all our political work; they have their own activists and stuff like that. But in a sense, they work for us. We help out each other.
One year Hillary Clinton met with the providers, so we’ve been to Washington. Then, as Nunu was saying about the film, hopefully—well, not hopefully, because it will—the film will open up more eyes as to what’s going on. A lot of people think that childcare is just babysitting. We’re not babysitters. We have a license. We have classes we have to go to. We’re versed in CPR and first aid. We have governmental agencies that oversee us and everything like that. We have to keep records and paperwork. We have to do more paperwork sometimes than we do watching the kids, it seems.
D: It seems that something like a federal minimum wage might ease the burden for these parents—and yourselves. Twenty-four-hour childcare might not be needed as much.
PH: In one sense 24-hour childcare would still be around even if there were better wages, only because we have nurses and doctors working night shifts. But if there were better wages, parents wouldn’t have to work two or three jobs, you know? We wouldn’t have to have a Christmas present basket set out. The greatest country is America, and still we lag behind so many other countries in things like this.
D: So what are your hopes now that the film will be shown nationwide?
PH: Obviously COVID sort of changed a lot of things. We were supposed to world premiere at [Tribeca], and the pandemic hit about two or three weeks prior to that.
But I hope when people do see the film that it makes them understand that we are professionals, it’s a business, but at the same time it’s a family. I hope they see something in there that makes them look at quality childcare providers as people who are definitely caring for their child, and who love their child. We just thank everyone for giving us the opportunity to speak and to show people what we do. And now I will hand it over to the boss.
D: Nunu, looks like you have the last word. Any final thoughts?
NH: I guess my husband hit the nail right on the head, but the last word for me is that I wish single mothers and single fathers—because we do have single fathers in here too—would be paid better. I love what I do, but I really would like if the children and the parents could spend more time with each other; they need that time together. It hurts me when a child says, “Oh, I don’t want to go home with Mommy.” I see the look on Mommy or Daddy’s face. They want to be able to do everything that we do with their children. I wish they had that.
Oh, and definitely everybody, so we can get over this mess, Can you please wear your mask? Please wear your mask because this is starting to be too much now. Let these kids go back to school. They need to go back! We’re sitting here doing Zoom classes with eight children. They need to be in school socializing with their friends.
Also, we daycare providers are essential workers too. Our names are never mentioned, but we are essential workers too.
Through the Night opens December 11 in virtual cinemas through Long Shot Factory.
Lauren Wissot is a film critic and journalist, filmmaker and programmer, and a contributing editor at both Filmmaker magazine and Documentary magazine. She's served as the director of programming at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, and has written for Salon, Bitch, The Rumpus and Hammer to Nail.