Tre Maison Dasan | Raindance Best Documentary Winner

Denali Tiller's Tre Maison Dasan was Raindance's winner for Best Documentary this year and I had the pleasure of seeing it yesterday afternoon in a rather quiet screen. The story follows three boys in Rhode Island of different ages, different lifestyles and different ambitions but one similarity; they all have a parent in prison.

Tre begins the documentary at the age of 13, already wearing an ankle bracelet due to being on parole himself. I would say he's the one the audience follows closest. I don't remember hearing the reasoning behind his dad being in prison but the two of them would compare house arrest stories on their two hour Saturday visits. "This not normal... we need new memories, we need fishing or something" Tre's dad would say. It was overwhelming as an audience member to see this boy who should just be beginning his life look so much older and so worn down by life. He would smoke joints, mix up with the wrong kids and speak to his mother like they were partners who had been together too long "I can't believe the way you talk to me" they say to one another, uttering a "fuck her" after another of their big blow outs. Underneath the hard exterior is a boy who is deeply intelligent with a desire to rap. Tiller recorded music with the boys which is threaded throughout the documentary and added to the voice of the narrative.

Maison is 11, diagnosed with Aspergers, whose father is in prison for possibly killing someone. He is, like Tre, incredibly intelligent and has a real love for life, you can see it in the way he does everything. From skipping in his front garden making stories up to asking a girl to be his Valentine and has the most beautiful way of making everything into a positive. His grandma, his primary carer, mentions that she is too warm to which he says imagine being somewhere so cold and think about how grateful you would be to be this warm. His mother moved to California and he doesn't have a strong desire to follow her, he likes Rhode Island and visits his father on Saturdays. She visits at one point in the film and when she spends her final night there with her friends instead of him he says "it's okay, I want her to have fun," his energy and kindness is infectious and is such a bright light throughout the narrative.

Dasan is the youngest of three, being only 6 years old. His mother is out on parole so his story is slightly different. He sits on the sofa watching Spiderman videos while his mother discusses with her officer about the next steps now she's out. The social worker encourages Dasan's mother to share her story with him, to which she asks "Can you handle the truth?" he and his cousin say yes, of course, and she explains prison as a grown-up time out. She reveals that she started a fire at the neighbours house after a series of similar attacks against her provoked her to do so, the final being that the neighbour set fire to her car. Dasan asks if he was in it, luckily he was not but his car seat and his toys were. Dasan cries in his mother's arms for a while after discovering the news but you can see without doubt he still loves her the same. He, like the other boys, is kind and imaginative but he has this sensitivity that is so sweet and innocent which you hope will remain throughout his entire life.

No one is a criminal in this film. Delani Tiller humanises everyone the justice system loves to judge. This story is wider than those inside the documentary, 1 in 14 children in the US have a parent in prison, she reveals through epilogue text, which is a shocking statistic that speaks hugely to the inadequacy of the justice system. Over 3 years, Tiller wracked up 350 hours footage and condensed it beautifully into 94 moving minutes. It mostly follows them from an outside perspective but will occasionally have moments directed in a casual interview style, one of the most prominent of these is Tre being asked if he thinks he is a good person.

 I hope this story is spread further and reaches all those who may need it. Tre's story is devastating, heartbreaking and far too much for someone of such a young age to have to go through but I'm sure, unfortunately, there will be someone of similar experiences that'll need it to know they are visible, too and not as the stereotype the class system want to place them in.

I cannot praise this doc any higher or recommend it more, everybody needs to see it as a humbling and a lesson of how we need to do better in a system that is constantly failing. Incredibly profound and moving, easily the greatest documentary of the year.

See it. Share it. Spread the message.

Until next time 

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