By Danuta Egle
Che “Rhymefest” Smith guides viewers through a deeply personal documentary about his life. The documentary follows Che’s journey as he settles into his father’s old home in the hopes of finding his father and, more importantly, keeping him. Stern and Sundberg navigate through a number of struggles, including African-American culture, fatherhood, youth, addiction and Che’s musical expression throughout.
“71% of high school dropouts, 85% of juvenile incarcerations, 90% of homeless and runaway children.” Emmy-nominated filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s “In My Father’s House” opens with these statistics which put the complexity of the problem in perspective but also frame the layers of musical artist Smith’s central story.
Che’s question “why did he abandon me” resonates with every shot in the film. His wife Donnie discusses her fatherless pain and her incarcerated mother, diligently scrapbooking as she talks about wanting motherhood for herself. Stern and Sundberg then focus on Che’s roots. He visits Donda’s House, a safeplace for youth, extending a hand and ear to kids he fears may lose themselves in gangs in place of a support system. He nods to the anger and loss in their rhymes.
The film is so much more than a look at Rhymefest’s overcoming hardship or his search for community. Its impact lies in the search for belonging, for belonging to someone and for someone belonging to a role and responsibility. Che pushes Brian out of the streets and into the role of a father, with a GED, a job, a paycheck and a roof over his head. But it is hard to cure an alcoholic homeless man of his addiction and to take him off the streets he lived on for 20 years. Recovery. Relapse. Recovery. Relapse again. There is something very intimate in the documentary’s continual rise and fall, through musical success and failure paralleled with the success and failure of fatherhood.
At one critical scene of confrontation, Che brings his father into his studio. He raps passionately about his broken home and misunderstanding of his father, as the camera focuses on Brian’s face. Stern and Sundberg capture a comparison between the two as each attempts to piece together what was hurt and broken. The relationship tests the bounds and consequences of forgiveness across three generations.
An endearing journey to a sense of belonging, the film is a necessary multifaceted look at urban America and the growing displacement of youth.
“In My Father’s House” opens in theaters nationwide on Oct. 9.
Danuta Egle is a Contributing Writer. Email her at email@example.com