Santa Fe Film Festival: ‘Sam Now’ Review

What are we owed when it comes to family?

Sam Harkness was a teenager when his mother left him and their family in early 2000. There was no note. There was no explanation. She was just gone. The Harkness family filed a missing persons report for Jois (pronounced Joyce). But the police said she was fine—she wasn’t being held against her will; she just didn’t want any contact with them. And for a while, even this seemingly loving, tight-knit family of educators in Seattle didn’t quite know what to do.

But after a childhood spent with his brothers staging increasingly elaborate home movies, Sam and half-brother Reed began to turn this mystery into a film—a sort of adventure movie, complete with a road trip and a costumed hero, The Blue Panther, who ends up on a quest to finally find his mother.

The brothers didn’t get the ending they expected, though, and the resulting documentary directed by Reed Harkness, Sam Now, turns out to be a moving and beautifully captured exploration of intergenerational trauma and new perspectives. After ditching the Blue Panther costume, the brothers come to find that Jois is on a search of her own after being adopted from a Japanese orphanage by a white American family after World War II.

But perhaps the biggest question looming over everyone is: What answers are we really owed, particularly when it comes to family? Woven together from a rich trove of home movies shot over the course of years, Sam Now takes on complex questions with a youthful, sometimes naive innocence. The Harkness family goes vulnerable, relating tender honesty to tell a story of reconciliation and how families can come together after falling apart. The story might not be universal, but the themes certainly are.


+A complex topic treated with rare tenderness

-It’ll put a weight on you

Sam Now

Directed by Harkness

Jean Cocteau Cinema, NR, 87 min.

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.