Soren Sorensen’s With Dad is a film that gives me hope when it comes to the positive exploration between fathers & sons on the big screen. In this short documentary, Sorensen chronicles Massachusetts photographer Stephen DiRado’s handling of his father Gene’s 20 year journey and eventual passing from Alzheimer’s disease. Doing what he knows best, DiRado photographs his father over the years. These pictures eventually became a photo journal called "With Dad" (the photography is obviously a key visual element in the documentary making it more of a collaboration between Sorensen & DiRado). The idea of a video camera (Sorensen) documenting someone doing their own form of visual documentation (DiRado) comes off like a slightly less chaotic, although equally “enjoyable”, version of William Greaves’ Symbiopsychotaxiplasm (a documentary about the documentation of the making of a film). The difference between these two films is that With Dad has one less layer than Greaves’ film.
The relationship between fathers & sons on film is often times presented as negatively complicated, abusive, “toxic” or a combination of all three. I’m not saying that isn’t the case sometimes but right now in 2020 you have people who honestly question if dads hug their sons (I’m not joking. This is seriously a question that has been asked on various viral posts on all platforms of social media). Folks really buy in to this. There are people who really think most men struggle with expressing sweet, positive, happy emotions with one another to the point where folks need to ask if men hug one another. I’m sorry but that’s weird to me. I don't deny that men can totally play in to certain stereotypes that would make someone think that, but it's still weird to me. I came from what many would consider to be a “functional” (as opposed to dysfunctional) or “happy” home life thanks in part to my father (I don’t say that to brag or to present myself as “better than” someone who may not have had that), so perhaps that’s why I’m so combative & defensive when it comes to the misunderstanding & misrepresentation of fathers & sons on film. Again - I’m not saying some men don’t have a hard time expressing their feelings, but there is an imbalance when it comes to that representation on film.
As someone form (western) Massachusetts (with a lot of Massachusetts pride) who looked up to their father, you can imagine how much a film like this speaks to me. There’s even a section in the documentary that focuses on DiRado’s father’s renal failure which became a little extra personal as I’ve had a kidney transplant myself, and my father essentially passed away from complications due to renal failure.
I don’t deny that my fascination & enjoyment of this film is bias. There are too many personal factors in the movie that make it impossible to not be. Simply put - I’m this film’s target audience (as a native of Massachusetts I also noticed & loved the Papa Gino’s shoutout towards the end). So perhaps that clears up why this review, to some degree, has kind of been about me and my own personal feelings so far. My father encouraged my artistic side much like Gene did with his son. Stephen's photography comes off as an extension of his father's own artistic side (Gene DiRado was a cartoonist for publications like the Boston Globe).
In addition to something like Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, Sorensen’s latest Film has a subconscious connection to Errol Morris’ B-Side as both films follow Massachusetts-bred photographers (DiRado & Elsa Dorfman) and their relationships with their respective families (both subjects even photograph their family using similar cameras)
With Dad / The B-Side
With Dad is both a lateral continuation/extension of Sorensen previous dad-heavy film; My Father’s Vietnam (click here to read my review from cutprintfilm.com) as well as a progression. DiRado’s photography is utilized beautifully throughout the film and shows a sweetness & sensitivity between men that isn’t often acknowledged these days...
I watch a lot of movies so I can comfortably say that there are plenty of films out there that show tenderness between men yet so many people fail to acknowledge that because they want to romanticize their narrow-minded idea of what masculinity is or isn’t. To be clear - this documentary’s purpose is not to combat masculinity or toxic masculinity. There’s nothing political here. With Dad is about coping with grief and saying goodbye. It’s existence just so happens to break down certain negative stereotypes.
With Dad is currently doing the festival circuit (it recently won various rewards at festivals in Houston & Rhode Island) and exploring various streaming options for the future. I urge anyone who enjoys any of the aforementioned films & filmmakers mentioned in this piece to seek it out once it becomes available.
You can catch screenings of My Dad at these upcoming festivals: