Synopsis Love & Diane tells the epic story of a family over three generations. At its heart lies the highly charged relationship between a mother and daughter, desperate for love and forgiveness but caught in a devastating cycle. For Love, the world changed forever when she and her siblings were torn from their mother, Diane. Separated from her family and thrust into a terrifying world of institutions and foster homes, the memory of that moment is more vivid to her than her present life. Ten years have passed since that day and Love and her five siblings have been reunited with their mother.
But all have been changed by the years of separation. They are almost strangers to each other and Love is tormented by the thought that it was her fault. At 8 years old she was the one who revealed to a teacher that her mother was an drug addict. Now she is 18 and HIV+. And she has just given birth to a son, Donyaeh. For Love & Diane this baby represents everything good and hopeful for the future. But that hope is mixed with fear. Donyaeh has been born with the HIV virus and months must pass before his final status is known.
As Diane struggles to make her family whole again and to realize some of her own dreams, Love seems to be drifting further and further away from her child. Diane, torn by her own guilt over her children’s fate when she was an addict, tries to help and to care for her grandson. But when Diane confides her fears for her daughter to a therapist, the police suddenly appear at the door. Donyaeh is taken from Love’s arms and it seems to the family as if history has repeated itself. Now Love must face the same ordeal her mother had faced years before.
She is charged with neglect and must prove to a world of social workers, therapists and prosecutors that she is a fit mother. And Diane must find the courage to turn away from her guilt and grasp a chance to pursue her long-deferred dreams. While the film takes us deep into the life of a single family, it also offers a provocative look at the Byzantine “system” that aims to help but as often frustrates the family’s attempts to improve their situation. The film differs from many documentaries that deal with the problems facing poor communities in that it eschews “talking eads” and interviews with “experts” and aims instead to immerse the viewer in the experiences and thoughts of a family trying to survive and retain autonomy in the face of terrible challenges. Love & Diane: Inner-City Blues: An Interview with Jennifer Dworkin For over eight years Jennifer Dworkin documented the personal struggles of a recovering crack addict and her troubled daughter in Love & Diane. Fellow “long-term” filmmaker Steve James talks with Dworkin about her epic work of American v’rit’ filmmaking.
I first heard about Jennifer Dworkin’s Love & Diane when it played at the 2002 New York Film Festival. Though I missed seeing it because I live in Chicago, the word was that this was a special film, one in which the filmmaker spent years intimately following the lives of a family. Since that’s been my own filmmaking “M. O. ,” I knew this was a documentary I had to see. So in November, when I finally did settle into my seat at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Festival to watch the film, I had pretty high expectations. Love & Diane lived up to them and more.
It’s a powerful, uncompromising, yet compassionate portrait of a mother and daughter coping with a hard life in Brooklyn and an even more difficult personal history between them. In the best sense of the word, the film is a throwback to the heyday of cinema v’rit’ filmmaking in the ’60s and early ’70s, When the Maysles were in their prime and young filmmakers like Barbara Kopple were making their mark. Love & Diane is one of those films where the filmmaker earned such intimate access and the trust of her subjects that it gives viewers a rare and complex glimpse into the lives of people we rarely really see in films.
And like most great film subjects, Diane Hazzard and her daughter, Love, continually confound our expectations of what it means to be a “ghetto mom” or an “ex-crack addict” or a “black teenage mother. ” Meeting and getting to know the director, Jennifer Dworkin, was one of the pleasures of the Amsterdam festival. My film, Stevie, also played there, and Jennifer and I found unexpected common ground in the stories each of our films tells. Both films deal with troubled family history, struggles between a parent and child, foster care, poverty and the social service and legal systems.
Yet, in other ways, Stevie and Love & Diane, couldn’t be more different. Filmmaker gave me a chance to talk further with Jennifer about her impressive first film and compare notes about how we each went about making such demanding and challenging films. Steve James: How long did you spend on this film? Jennifer Dworkin: You know, I never answer that question. James: Really? Dworkin: No, just kidding [laughs]. If you count directions I started but didn’t end up using in the film, about eight years, including editing. But not full time. James: Of course not. How could one survive? Dworkin: Exactly.