Arts, News

In My Father’s House, 2015 Tribeca Film Festival

By Natalie Lally, Tribeca Film Festival Correspondent

“A powerful, relevant film for these times”

NEW YORK — Inside a world of alcoholism, homelessness, and abandonment, directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg reconnect rapper Che “Rhymefest” Smith with his absentee father, who had left him more than 25 years ago. A true coming of age film, Smith rights the wrongs he committed in the past, and uses his new relationship with his father as the stepping stone to maturity.

The film "In My Father's House," looks at the relationship  between black men and their sons. The movie stars Che “Rhymefest” Smith, Brian Tillman and Donnie Smith.
The film “In My Father’s House,” looks at the relationship between a son and his absentee father. The movie stars Che “Rhymefest” Smith (R) and Brian Tillman (L), Smith’s absentee  father.

Smith is a well-known hip-hop artist who recently won an Oscar for being a co-writer of the original song “Glory” and is famously known for working on Kanye West’s hit single, Jesus Walks. A successful rapper’s life is imagined as lavish and limitless, and he was easily caught up in the fame, turning into a womanizer at an early age.

Unfortunately, Smith’s career ended abruptly, and the film shows the viewer who he has become since then:  A family man with dreams and expectations, about to buy his childhood home in Chicago with his wife and teenage son.

“In My Father’s House” captures the richness of family ties and the influence of childhood experience on adulthood. After buying the Chicago home, Smith’s past starts to overwhelm him.

He begins to reflect on his early years spent there, and feels an emptiness inside that needs to be filled. Concerned with the whereabouts of his father, Smith goes on a hunt to find him, hoping he is still well and alive somewhere.

Brian Tillman is later found in a homeless shelter a few blocks from the Chicago home.

Grateful for this opportunity, Smith is quick to spend quality time with his father for the first time since he was 12 years old. The meeting goes extremely well and ends with forgiveness and an invitation to Tillman to meet the rest of his family.

Motivated to help his father kick his alcohol addiction, Smith arranges his stay in a rehabilitation homeless shelter and promises to support him as long as he continues his therapy. The road to sobriety is a roller coaster ride of unexpected twists and turns. Smith tries to keep his dad on a steady path, to keep him in his life for good this time. Although Tillman’s relapse and behavior seem to threaten the newly found relationship with his son, Smith’s love for his father is apparent throughout the film.

Stern and Sundberg film each aspect of the story with painstaking detail, using family photos, home movies, and archival materials. The use of a variety of visual media makes the story even stronger, tying up all loose ends from childhood to adulthood.

Both filmmakers document Tillman’s drastic transformation, but did not limit themselves to just that. They also explored the personal lives of Che and his wife, Donnie, highlighting his wife’s struggles with conception, as well as following an ongoing paternity test for Smith and a past girlfriend, which turns out to be positive.

Stern’s and Sundberg’s “In My Father’s House” is a powerful film, relevant for these times. It clearly shows the obstacles that can overwhelm families yet also shows the importance of discovering one’s true self.




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