After the Camera Goes Dark
The Family I Had covers a trio of timelines. One, the precursor to the gruesome murder of a four-year old girl by her teenage brother. That timeline follows how they grew up and the family situation. Then, the murder, and the times near to it. Finally, the period after the news cameras left. That’s where The Family I Had finds its strength.
It’s a multi-layered documentary, insightful as it asks a mother if she can still love the son serving a 30-year mandatory sentence for killing her youngest. The answers, intercut with scenic images of Texas and Georgia where the family resides, mutes the ghastly side. This is an exploration of the post-news cycle, how innocent people, impacted by the grotesque decision of another, continue to live.
Then there’s Texas. In a judgmental town with more churches per capita than any other city in the USA, people talk. They ask dopey questions and shift blame. The eyes never stop leering, casting doubt on the idea of this being a loving community willing to help those in pain. Those moments of tears in The Family I Had bring out an empathy impossible to gauge from attention-grabbing headlines, those that feed the frenzy of a broken community.
Finally is the discussion of mental health, and the absolute failure of the prison system to do anything other than put people in cells. From the age of 13, Paris Bennett sat inside a juvenile detention center (then adult prison after 18) and without any mental health support. In the closing moments, Paris’ mother Lee notes that if her son kills again, it’s on the state of Texas who refused to provide any treatment for her son’s sociopathic tendencies. That’s a damning statement on prisons and their inability to help or reform.
Behind Paris is a family of dysfunction, including another murder in the early ‘80s; that put Lee’s mother on trial for murdering her husband (one of seven). Lee herself battled drug addiction, and with a new son, dealt with complications of infant heart trouble. All of this is dealt with honestly and openly, providing a gripping authenticity. The Family I Had spent years with this family. They grow and deal with their issues. How they process a decade old murder of a little girl is fascinating, and the only regret is that The Family I Had cuts itself short. This story will linger, engrossing until the day Paris is released – and then further still.
Shot over multiple years, the new interview footage is unusually consistent. The HD video displays great brightness and clarity. Outside of occasional banding and barely perceptible noise, imagery maintains excellent consistency. Facial detail and sharpness holds with rare drops.
Some of The Family I Had comes from home video camcorder footage. That looks as expected. Many animated sequences bring Paris’ drawings to life, delivering superb definition on those doodled lines. Exteriors of homes excel, especially of Lee’s colorful house; it’s flush with color, inside and out.
Serviceable Dolby Digital comes in 5.1 and 2.0 flavors. Between the two, there’s little separating them. A little ambiance stretches to the rears in the 5.1 track, but this is all dialog otherwise.
Like the video, recording quality remains consistent no matter the separation in time periods. It’s all clear and defined. Paris is interviewed in prison where a heavy echo is possible, but avoided.
The case lists deleted scenes as a bonus. Yet, all that’s produced when clicking on the bonus features is a short trailer.
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The Family I Had
Following the family of a convicted teen murder, The Family I Had looks at what happens when the news cameras lose interest.
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