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
Directed by Harkness
Jean Cocteau Cinema, NR, 87 min.