This weekend at the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival I has the pleasure of seeing Shadow of the House, an intimate documentary by Allie Humenuk that presents a portrait of photographer Abelardo Morell. The film shows his process and daily life behind the work without interpreting it for you, presenting no experts telling you about the importance of Morell’s work, instead, you see that for yourself, as if you had walked into a beautifully mounted exhibition without placards or a program.
The narrative unfolds as a conversation between subject and filmmaker organically without a heavy hand, beautifully lensed, intimate in perspective, as the subject confronts his identity and relationship with Cuba where he was born, yet he’s lived as an American since he came to this country at the age of fourteen in 1962. There are very few films made in which the filmmaker spends enough time with their subject over the course of years in order to develop depth and perspective, in Humenuk’s case she spent almost seven years making this film. In a medium that is crowded with self-indulgent personal documentaries, sensationalist polemics, and formulaic assemblages, Shadow of The House stands out as a rare and beautiful gem.
Do whatever you can to see this film in a theater, on the big screen, with an audience. This is one of the best films I’ve seen dealing with an artist, his process, and the life behind the work. The film won the award for Best New England Film at the festival, however, the film deserves much more than regional recognition, for me, it was the best documentary at the festival, while I do concur with the Audience Award going to Beyond Belief, a beautifully crafted and important film.