'Tre Maison Dasan': Film Review | San Francisco 2018

Courtesy of San Francisco Film Festival
A gripping look at children wounded by their parents' crimes.

Three boys with parents in prison face formidable obstacles in this eye-opening doc.

Documentaries about men in prison have been seen before, but Tre Maison Dasan, a film having its world premiere at the San Francisco Film Festival, offers a fresh and heartrending perspective. Set in Rhode Island, the film focuses on three boys who have had a parent in prison (one of those parents is a mother), and it probes the impact on the children with clarity and poignancy. Director Denali Tiller’s doc deserves exposure beyond the festival circuit, and it will undoubtedly stir a good deal of welcome conversation wherever it is shown.

One of the startling statistics included in the film is that one of 14 children in the U.S. has had a parent incarcerated. The percentage is higher for black children, but this sad fact cuts across all ethnic groups. In fact, it is revealing that two of the three kids studied here come from a mixed-race heritage. And the film is honest enough to reveal that these parents were not incarcerated for minor offenses but for more violent crimes. There are no simple good guys or bad guys here; parents and children are all presented with clarity and compassion.

Tre Janson, the oldest of the three, is 13 when first introduced, though the film follows him for a period of a year or two, when he threatens to repeat the criminal behavior of his father — a phenomenon that is not uncommon for children of prisoners. Dasan Lopes, the youngest of the three boys, is only 6 when the chronicle begins, and he is the one with the mother in prison, though she is released and reunites with him during the course of the story. Eleven-year-old Maison Teixeira has the added problem of living with Asperger’s, but he is clearly a brilliant if sometimes hyperactive boy, and the scenes with him add welcome humor to this chronicle.

Yet in the end, what makes this film memorable is the emotion it generates. Scenes with the boys and their parents during prison visiting days are almost unbearably wrenching. The fathers recognize how their absence has damaged their sons. Tre in particular has had a rocky relationship with both parents, and the outcome of his story is especially searing. This film has been beautifully edited by Carlos Rojas Felice, so that we always feel we are getting as complete a picture of these three boys’ lives as one 90-minute film can encompass. This picture opens our eyes to a social disruption that has been underexposed and that we all ignore at our peril.

Director: Denali Tiller

Producers: Denali Tiller, Rebecca Stern, Craig Pilligan

Executive producers: Andrew Freiband, Patty Quillin

Director of photography: Jon Gourlay

Editor: Carlos Rojas Felice

Music: Gil Talmi

No rating, 94 minutes