TRIBECA 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Jacinta is a documentary about a young woman incarcerated for drug-related crimes in Maine with her drug-addicted mother, Rosemary, and the peripheral story of their entire family traumatized by a cycle of addiction and incarceration. Central to Jacinta’s grief is her horror about what damage she’s done to her own child, Caylynn.
In a culture where addiction is a growing problem, documentaries of the addict’s experience are increasingly common, but these are important stories that humanize people suffering from the scourge of addiction. First-time director Jessica Earnshaw follows Jacinta and her family in and out of prison for years. She adroitly avoids making it a lurid reality show, and also she manages not to turn it into poverty/addiction porn. The other big challenge of depicting addiction that she neatly navigates is to steer clear of being repetitive. We’ve all seen Orange is the New Black. The path from dysfunctional family to drug abuse to incarceration is mind-numbingly predictable, and once you’ve become familiar with the pattern, the only variations are the personalities of the people caught up in it, and where they are from.
“…a young woman incarcerated for drug-related crimes in Maine with her drug-addicted mother, Rosemary…”
Earnshaw shines hope for the viewer that something positive will come of the experience for Rosemary, Jacinta, and Caylynn, but then repeatedly dashes it in relapses and arrests. Of course, this is the nature of lives enslaved to drugs, but it’s particularly difficult to watch three generations of women grapple with these forces far beyond their control. In moments when they seem to be getting a handle on life, they are still far out of their depth.
As far back as 1998, in David Veloz’s excellent film Permanent Midnight starring Ben Stiller, the point is made that a story like this will have one of two impacts on a viewer: if you’ve never tried addictive drugs, it could stop you ever getting involved with them, but for addicts, it could crush any hopes of ever getting clean. This is not cynicism. Addiction is a cyclical pattern of relapse. Once addicted, always addicted. Life becomes a calculated balancing act in a race to whichever death comes first: overdose, criminal violence, or natural causes. It is a constant effort of diligence to make it through a full life.