directed by Loira Limbal
The new documentary called Through the Night is not about young people partying until dawn. Instead, it’s about very young people, as in children, and the adults who are paid to take care of them. The film has an important point to make, but that’s overpowered by the sheer joy of watching young, adorable children.
Some 20 years ago, Deloris “Nunu” Hogan and her husband Patrick set up a 24-hour daycare center in New Rochelle, NY. Parents who work unusual hours can leave their kids there and assume that their children will be fed, entertained, taught a few things, and be well taken for.
Nunu appears to be the heart and soul of Dee’s Tots Daycare – as the business is called. She clearly has a special touch with children – getting them to pick up their toys, helping them through a tantrum, and teaching them to grow food from the garden. Patrick is clearly second in command. The business also has other employees.
Clearly, this is not the best situation. If neither parent can be home in conventional hours, the children aren’t getting as much parental time as they should. But the sort of daycare that the Hogan’s provide seems like the best alternative.
These are not wealthy parents sending their children to boarding school. Their customers are mostly struggling single mothers stuck in so-called “women’s work.” Wages are low, and often without medical care. Most of the kids are Black – as are the Hogans.
The film’s press notes include a 291-word essay entitled The Reality of Working Mothers and Childcare Providers. Unfortunately, in the movie itself, most of this important message gets lost.
Instead, we get Nunu Hogan – Wonder Woman of daycare. Even when her health goes bad, she’s apparently running the show. To a certain extent, Nunu and Patrick seem to be doing very well. They own and live in what appears to be a very large house with a beautiful garden. On the other hand, that house is also their place of business and they’re always working.
We also get the stories of two mothers whose children were raised at Dee Tots. Marisol Valencia is currently working six days a week for a supermarket supply company. Shanona Tate is a pediatric ER nurse with elementary school kids.
But we never hear from former Dee Tots children. Why didn’t some of the young adults that grew up in Nunu’s care have anything to say to the film crew? Or even anything from the Hogans’ own now-grown kids?
I’m always a bit wary about this type of cinema verite documentary. The camera is supposed to be a fly on the wall, unnoticed by the subjects. But I can’t totally believe that people, and especially children, might want to perform.
As a political documentary about raising children under extremely difficult conditions, this documentary only skims the target. As a study of an exceptional woman, and as an excuse for watching adorable children playing happily together, it works.
Through the Night will be available, via virtual cinema, Friday at the Roxie’s website.
Note: In an earlier version of this review, I mispelled Nunu as Nuna.