“Far From the Tree” Opens to a Standing Ovation at Montclair Film Festival

Andrew Solomon knows about parent-child connections. Growing up he knew he was different. When he told his mom about his homosexuality she couldn’t accept it. They grew apart and she died. His father was critical as well, but he came to accept his son and made a great toast to Andrew and his partner at their wedding. The couple drove away from their nuptials in a pink tank.

This is one of the riveting stories that make up “Far From the Tree,” a movie that will tug at your heartstrings. The film, which kicked off this year’s Montclair Film Festival Thursday night, explores the complex relationships parents have with their children and can transform the way you look at people dealing with physical or psychological issues.

Solomon, a writer for The New Yorker magazine, published the book “Far From the Tree” in 2012. It became a bestseller. More than 20 directors approached him with the idea of making it into a movie. The writer chose director Rachel Dretzin because he was impressed by her grasp of his book’s message. Together they crafted an exceptional documentary that will make you laugh, cry and cheer.

Before the film screened, Montclair Film Executive Director Tom Hall teed it up as an embodiment of the Festival’s theme of “connections.” If you don’t connect with “Far From the Tree” check your pulse.

How Parents Respond to Issues Their Children Face

The film introduces us to several families.

Jason has Down’s syndrome. His parents looked beyond that and raised him with love. Jason eventually moved out to share a house with two other people with Down’s syndrome. They call themselves the Three Musketeers. Jason, hold down a job and is a big fan of the movie “Frozen.” He has a crush on Elsa. The film gives a rich view of Jason’s life.

Jack developed autism at a young age and would hit his mom. His parents endured and continued to support him. They connected with an educator that taught Jack to communicate by using a keyboard to type out what he thought and felt. Jack shows us he is a wise and beautiful soul.

Loini, Leah and Joe are little people. The film documents their relationship, their efforts to have kids and how their families react to it.

Trevor’s story contrasts the others. He is raised by a loving family and has what seems to be a normal childhood, but commits a horrendous crime. We see how his family responds to that and how it impacts the parents and siblings.

After the movie, Solomon, Dretzin and producer Jamila Ephron spoke about the film. Solomon beautifully summed up the film’s message. “Not to judge and presume about people or ways of life that are different. And to recognize the resilience of family love and understand how people are grateful for lives they would have done almost anything to avoid,” he said.

The one bad thing about “Far from the Tree” is that it was only screened once at the Film Festival. The film is scheduled to open in New York City on July 20.