Far From The Tree is a powerful and important reminder that much more unites rather than divides us.
Rachel Dretzin’s stunning documentary does just that by showing us the lives of Down syndrome suffer Jason, autistic Jack, Loini, Leah and Joseph, each of whom are little people, and the Reese family, whose eldest son Trevor is serving life in prison.
But since “Far From The Tree” was shot over two years ago, I was dying to get an update on its characters. Luckily, during my recent interview with the filmmaker, Dretzin was more than happy to provide just that.
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“We stayed very much in contact with the families. All the way through, and definitely lately as the film has been released we are talking more. Every single family came to New York for the premiere.”
“After the film was over we brought all of the characters up on stage, and they had never met each other. Which was amazing. So it was really kind of mind blowing to see each other together for the first time. Now they are all in contact with each other over Facebook and all that stuff.”
“Loini is doing great. We don’t get into this much in the film, but Loini has a very rare kind of dwarfism, called primordial dwarfism, and nobody has really survived beyond their 30s with that kind of dwarfism. So she has had very serious health issues. She has had several heart attacks.”
“But she is doing OK. She really is. She got a job finally. She really wanted to work, and it was difficult for her to get work. She got a job working at a national park, taking tickets, and she is just loving getting out into the world and just having something to do with herself all day.”
“Jack is in high school. Doing great, went to the prom, he has his braces off, just doing great. Joe and Leah have moved out to San Diego, because Joe has a teaching job at San Diego State.”
“Their first daughter Hazel, who was born when we made the film, is two now. And they just had a little boy named Silas a couple of weeks ago, both of them are average height.”
“I have three kids, and I have said to them many times, ‘I could never have done what you are doing.’ They are just insanely capable, and nonchalant, and travel everywhere, and do everything, and do not slow down. They are great.”
“The three musketeers, as you can imagine, are pretty much the same. I probably see them the most, because they are on the East coast. They all still live together, Jason is still obsessed with Elsa and still talks a lot about going to Norway.”
“He has not been to Norway, but he has not stopped talking about it. That’s my next film [laughs]. I just find him unbelievable.”
“They are all really enjoying it. One of the nice things about this is that no-one is unhappy with it, they are all enjoying how they came off. The three guys are just having such a blast, posing on the red carpets for their shots. They are just having a really good time, so I am happy with how it has all turned out.”
Dretzin is still clearly hooked by the comings and goings of the characters in “Far From The Tree,” because when I asked whether she would make more films on them and whether she had started to picture what that could entail, she responded, “Yes, I would and I have to both questions.”
“I am fascinated and will be fascinated to see what happens to these families. Watching Joe and Leah’s family grow up is going to be so fascinating.”
“Then Jack, who is the non-verbal teenager with autism, he is just changing so much, and he has such ambitions and I think it will be fascinating to see how he grows up.”
“I have definitely thought about returning to one or more families over time. I have also thought about expanding it, because there are an infinite amount of stories out there like these.”
“They are so rich and so full of heart and emotion, and I can imagine doing something more ambitious with this material. Definitely not off the table.”
The issue of whether to make “Far From The Tree” a single film or a series was one that had actually consumed Dretzin from the very beginning.
“The question of what it would be, whether it would be a single film or a series was a tough question. Judging from the scale of the book, your first instinct is that it should be a series. And we did consider that, but we then decided to make it into a single feature documentary.”
Before the sequel, though, you can expect various different iterations of “Far From The Tree" to be released, as Dretzin revealed that a musical based on the above stories is currently in development.
“I know someone has turned it into a musical, and I think there’s a musical version of 'Far From The Tree' in the works. I know it hasn’t been staged yet, but I went to a reading. I know there are people that are interested in translating the book.”