Through The Night


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Through The Night
"The kind of documentary that expresses its politics through the simple act of observation, Limbal's film is a plea for justice."

It's a familiar problem for parents in many parts of the world. If you can't afford expensive childcare but you need to work so you can feed your children, what do you do about it? Most people can't work from home or take their children with them. Where there is no clear solution, communities often come together to fill the gap. Deloris and Patrick Hogan - better known locally as Nunu and PopPop - are the last resort for many in their New York neighbourhood. They care for large numbers of children and what's more, they do it 24/7 - taking shifts - to account for the fact that some parents need to work nights.

In the UK, guidelines state that there should be at least one adult for every three infants in daycare, and that even with teenagers the ratio should be at least one to ten. People familiar with that approach will be astounded to see how Nunu and PopPop manage with children running around everywhere, clamouring for attention. Rther than feeling like a workplace creche, however, this situation feels much more like a family. The children all know each other and they have bonded strongly with the couple looking after them. One little girl talks frankly about how unhappy she was about her mother going away from her every day, but how everything changed when she met Nunu.

In this situation, the children learn a degree of resilience. They also learn to look out for one another, picking up useful social skills. There are learning activities and, for the older ones, there's homework to be done, but there's also a lot of fun. We see them engaged in a variety of crafts and games. In the evening, PopPop tries to supervise them by himself whilst a harried Nunu bustles around in the kitchen and the children play with their spaghetti, only part of which makes it into their mouths.

The first thing you will notice here is that the vast majority of the children are black or Hispanic - a different racial balance from that we see in nearby streets, and a reflection of the racial aspect of poverty in the US. Listening to the parents talking, it's clear how frustrated they are but also, depressingly, how much they take for granted the state's lack of interest in doing anything to help them. As well as seeing the kids in daycare and hearing Nunu tell her own story, we also learn more about some of them, including one who can't care for her child full time because she's needed in the local ER department to care for other people.

There's a worry here so profound that the parents hardly dare to express it. What if something were to happen to Nunu? She's not young anymore. When, eventually, something does, director Loira Limbal shows us rows of neatly stacked pastel-coloured chairs, a silent garden, empty room. Through this stillness we can anticipate the chaos elsewhere. Through these moments we can understand the precarity of the system.

The kind of documentary that expresses its politics through the simple act of observation, Limbal's film is a plea for justice. It's also an uplifting story about the love and affection that holds a community together, and the children who inspire it.

Reviewed on: 14 Dec 2020
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Through The Night packshot
Documentary examining the emotional toll of our modern economy on families, told through the lens of a 24-hour daycare centre in Westchester, New York.

Director: Loira Limbal

Starring: Deloris Hogan, Patrick Hogan

Year: 2020

Runtime: 75 minutes

Country: US

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