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ABFF 2015 Review: ‘In My Father’s House’ Is a Powerful Work on Family, Abuse and Fatherhood

June 17, 2015

Statistics say that 75% of Black children are born in single-family households, a number that has increased exponentially since the 1960s. Directors Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern’s surprisingly bold documentary “In My Father’s House” follows Che ‘Rhymefest’ Smith as he embarks on a journey to find his absentee father, a man that he never knew. After buying the house that his father grew up in, Che is suddenly desperate to learn about the man who is responsible for his existence.

At first glance, the subject seems rather tiresome and cliché. Another Black man without a father, Che defied the odds and left behind his rough Chicago neighborhood and found major success in music. (He co-wrote “Jesus Walks” with Kanye West and “Glory” with Common and John Legend.) However, when Che finally does reconnect with his father, he finds him living on the street a few blocks from his home. Brian Tillman is a destitute man; he’s an alcoholic who has been living on the streets of Chicago for the past twenty years. And yet, despite his circumstances, Brian brings light humor and warmth to an otherwise devastating subject matter. He’s charismatic and extremely intelligent, but also somehow broken, either by the cycle of Black oppression or something equally as sinister.

A Chicago native, it was thrilling to see the real Chi-town on screen. The film showed neighborhoods and places that were familiar to me, it didn’t focus on the glitz and glam of downtown. The documentary felt authentic because it didn’t smooth over the grit and ugliness of the city. Like “Hoop Dreams” (1994) and “Cooley High” (1975) the city wasn’t simply a backdrop in the story. The harsh winters, segregation and violence all honestly played a part in the story. Brian lived and thrived on the streets and the camera was right there with him.

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Image: ‘In My Father’s House’ Film