Just how broken is America’s child support system? That’s the question filmmaker Rel Dowdell wants to answer with his latest film, Where’s Daddy?
Dowdell showed a lot of promise on his previous film, Changing the Game, and I’ve been awaiting his follow-up. For this subject matter, Dowdell opts to avoid crafting a fictionalized account and tackles it head-on documentary-style. It’s the wise choice as hearing stories from people directly affected from the broken childcare system is far more engaging than one or two accounts.
It doesn’t take long to realize the extent of the problem. Dowdell seeks to challenge the notion of the deadbeat dad, particularly in the black household. He interviews several black men who want to be active and engaged in their children’s lives, but can’t sustain the monthly payments to avoid being incarcerated.
In one particularly troubling account, an attorney reveals a staggering number of black men were in prison on 90-day sentences for owing $700, a far cry from the cost of processing and providing a basic quality of life for prisoners.
While jailed, naturally the men can’t raise any money for their families making for a vicious cycle that goes on and on. It’s not hard to sympathize with these fathers as they want to be involved in their children’s lives including walking five miles over a bridge to make a visit. The system almost seems gamed against these fathers, but Dowdell smartly doesn’t make this a sob story.
This isn’t a one-sided account as Dowdell talks to wives/mothers who are left holding the bag when fathers don’t pay/can’t pay for child support. There’s one standout interview where a mother shatters the myth of child support payments being used on trivial things like hair and nail maintenance.
Dowdell has the inquisitive curiosity of a longtime journalist asking hardball questions that challenge his interview subjects. He asks sensible questions that viewers are likely asking themselves. In one tough exchange, Dowdell asks a father of six with various baby mommas if he would want his daughter to date someone like him. When speaking to a professor, Dowdell questions why people who can’t afford children keep having children.
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Interview subjects range from attorneys, former prisoners, professors and even hip hop star Freeway. Dowdell certainly didn’t lack for participants, many of whom provide strong insight on the epidemic and ways people can make the system more of a level playing field. The lighting is solid and Dowdell has a good sense of how often to talk and when to step back and let his interviewees share their take.
There’s a few technical issues that suggest the limited funding Dowdell had to work with including low-resolution stock images and transitions.
Other issues like the ambient noise from cars while he conducts interviews could have been avoided. While the change of scenery from the basic office setting is appreciated, there’s only so much control Dowdell has on background noise while outside. He probably also could have skipped the hand-shaking introduction scenes before many of the interviews and just go into the discussion.
Where’s Daddy? is a thought-provoking and compelling look at the child care system. Dowdell paints a compelling picture of a problem that needs to be addressed sooner than later to truly give children a fair shake at having both parents in their lives.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Photo Credit: Dowdell Film Company