Hello Mother, Hello Father

'51 Birch Street'

Hello Mother, Hello Father

What happens when a parent becomes a person? For documentarian Doug Block, it was a radical rethinking of who his parents were and what their marriage was about. The project began in the wake of Block's mother's sudden death and his father's swift remarriage. As his father, Mike, began packing up the house – the one at 51 Birch Street – in anticipation of a move to Florida with his new wife, Kitty, he unearthed three boxes full of his late wife's diaries. The son began reading the diaries, and in the process gained an often uneasy insight into his mother Mina's life: one that included psychotherapy, an affair, and the quiet desperation all too common for a Fifties suburban housewife.

Block began conducting interviews with his family, just fishing around at first. "I asked [my father] if he missed Mom," he recalls. "He replied, 'No, it wasn't a loving association, just a functioning one.' Given that I thought their 54-year marriage was a pretty good one, I was stunned. And for the first time began to think there might be a film here."

51 Birch Street incorporates interviews, a half-century's worth of home movies, side trips to a grief counselor and a rabbi, and Block's own late-night confessionals. "It's one thing to worry about your own presentation in your film," he says. "But when you're responsible for your parents' legacies, that's just a huge burden. ... I'm really happy it worked out so well, but therapy would have been a hell of a lot easier."

Although the film began as an exploration into Block's mother's hidden life, perhaps the greatest revelation within is Block's father, Mike. A taciturn man first seen puttering around his workshop and badly disconnecting with his son, Mike increasingly opens up over the course of the film. And Block says the change has stuck. "This 85-year-old man who has never been good at talking about himself has totally blossomed. It's like the film has liberated him. Now you can barely get him to stop talking."

Regional Premiere

Sunday, March 12, 5:30pm, Alamo South Lamar

Tuesday, March 14, 2:45pm, Alamo South Lamar Friday, March 17, 11am, Alamo Downtown

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SXSW Film 06, 51 Birch Street, Doug Block

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