Brown family, top Stanley and Natalie, bottom Linda and Susan
I set out to make a portrait of my father. However a much bigger story emerged. You See Me is about my family dealing with trauma, loss and grief, as well as my own journey to rehabilitate the memory of my father and connect with my mother in a new and unexpected way.
As a child I spent a lot of time with my dad. We were buddies, always doing things together and yet I can’t say I ever really understood him. I had the feeling he truly wanted to be more connected and engaged but his mood swings, anger and erratic behavior seemed to consume him.I attempted in an earlier documentary Your Favorite to figure out the reason, the cause for this disconnect. But as a young, fledgling filmmaker I lacked the maturity and experience needed to ask the difficult questions that would help me delve into his complex and troubled past. The film was the beginning of a lifelong quest. But one I put on hold.
Twenty years later, at age seventy-nine, and in failing health my father, Stanley suffered a debilitating stroke. I knew if I was ever to make sense of his life and our relationship, now was the time. My plan was to return to those difficult questions about his past while I documented his recovery. But the next few years were a whirlwind of dramatic life-changing events: the rapid mental and physical deterioration of my father, the heartbreaking circumstances of his death, the uncovering of long hidden family secrets, the discovery of a treasure trove of redeeming video tapes and the unexpected bond that developed between me and my mother.
During this journey I began to see my parents differently, separate from me, with their own stories, virtues and flaws. They were more than the roles and labels I had ascribed to them. They were products of their own histories and parents, wrestling with their own demons, just like me.
They were the same parent’s I had known before I began shooting, but seemed different. Now when I asked my mom in the film why she put up with the abuse, I heard a thoughtful, reasoned answer, not a weak excuse. When I felt angry with my dad for endlessly trying to get his mother’s love, I realized I had been doing the same thing with him. Once I saw my parents as equals, allies I was able to empathize with them, because I saw myself in them.
My hope with You See Me is that audiences see their own family stories and relationships in it and they see the power of love and forgiveness to turn trauma and loss into a potent catalyst for change. Even though the film deals with illness and death, it’s really about beginnings, hope, and how opportune things can happen when least expected.