New York Times
NEW YORK TIMES
ARTS & IDEAS/CULTURAL DESK
FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW; The Catch-22's of Recovery
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Jennifer Dworkin's compelling documentary Love & Diane immerses
you so intensely in the problems of the Hazzards, a troubled New York
family living on public assistance, that by the end of its two and a
half hours you feel almost like a member of the household.
This profoundly intimate movie, one of the finds of this year's New York
Film Festival (it will be shown this morning), focuses on the stormy
relationship of Diane, the family's 42-year-old matriarch, who is in
recovery from crack addiction, and one of her daughters, Love, the
single mother of a baby boy named Donyaeh. Donyaeh, a bright, happy
child, was born H.I.V.-positive but converts to negative after
Love, who is 18 as the movie begins, is H.I.V.-positive but asymptomatic
for AIDS and has a steady boyfriend who remains peripheral in the film.
Diane is a brave, outspoken woman with a horrendous family history. Now
clean and sober and fortified by her Christian faith, she is determined
to get a job and reunite under one roof with her family, which has been
taken from her and scattered among foster homes. When she enrolls in a
rigorous training program to help adults with troubled backgrounds and
no job experience to enter the labor force, you passionately root for
her to succeed.
An early scene, in which Diane gathers the family in prayer in her new
apartment, suggests that her dreams may be within reach. But things
quickly come apart. One son, Willie, leaves home and is lost to the
streets. The painful turning point of a story that spans several years
comes when Diane feels obliged to report Love as a neglectful mother,
and Donyaeh is put in a foster home.
Without indicting New York's social service system, ''Love & Diane''
recognizes the frustrations of being dependent on that system with its
Byzantine rules and Catch-22 provisions. Diane, for instance, can afford
her roomy new apartment only so long as Donyaeh is living under her
Her reporting of her daughter's neglect is a sad case of the tables
turning, for when Love was 8, she reported her mother's crack addiction.
The family was broken up, and Love, who still roils with resentment at
Diane's neglect, endured a series of foster and group homes. After
Donyaeh's departure, Love spends the rest of the movie trying to get her
son back. But because she is prone to violent rages and listless
depressions and fails to show up at court-mandated therapy sessions, her
progress is touch-and-go.
What lifts the film above many other high-minded documentaries dealing
with poverty and the welfare cycle is the filmmaker's astounding empathy
for both Diane and Love. These smart, complicated women are never made
to seem like case studies. As they grope their way toward a tentative
peace, you feel how deeply their wounds run and understand with an
uncomfortable clarity how fear and anger can sometimes undermine the
Love & Diane
Produced and directed by Jennifer Dworkin; director
of photography, Tsuyoshi Kimoto; edited by Mona Davis. Running time: 155
minutes. This film is not rated. Shown today at 11 a.m. at Alice Tully
Hall, Lincoln Center, as part of the 40th New York Film Festival.
Published: 10 - 12 - 2002 , Late Edition - Final , Section B , Column 1 , Page 9
Love & Diane
Jennifer Dworkin's epic 2-hour docu explodes the right wing cliché of
the "welfare queen" -- the black woman with a lot of kids and a crack
habit -- not by avoiding the stereotype but by fleshing it out. Settling
the viewer in to an unmediated intimacy with her subjects, Dworkin
follows the fortunes of Diane, recovering addict and mother of six, and
her daughter Love over a span of three years. Prizewinner at Locarno,
pic's tremendous emotional force and uncompromising honesty make for a
strong presence on the fest circuit, and limited theatrical run could
precede eventual PBS airing.
"Love" starts three years after Diane has succeeded in reuniting her
damaged family, traumatized first by her neglect and then, after the law
interceded, by separation, foster care and group homes. In the
intervening years, they have become strangers. They fantasized a
"happily ever after" ending once they reconnected, but deep-rooted scars
and resentments remain.
Dworkin focuses on the most intense of these familial relationships, the
mother/daughter duo of the title. Love, emerging from a horrendous
hand-to-mouth existence on the streets but still seeking a bond with her
mother, is HIV positive. She has just given birth to a boy, Donyaeh,
As characters' histories are revealed, patterns emerge that threaten to
engulf the principals in a hellish repetitive cycle. Diane is herself
the daughter of an alcoholic mother who abandoned her when she was 3
years old. Love, who was removed from her mother when she was 8, sees
her baby wrested from her and, like her mother before her, must surmount
all manner of court-mandated obstacles to retrieve him.
Both Diane and Love had babies very young to fill the void created by
their absent parents only to become absent parents themselves. Love
feels like a pariah because it was she who, at age 8, told her teacher
that her mother smoked crack, leading to the initial break-up of the
family unit. Similarly, it is Diane's mention to her therapist of a
violent fight between Love and one of her sisters that leads to Love's
son Donyaeh's being taken away.
No mere collection of talking heads, film's p.o.v. subtly alternates
between that of a privileged onlooker and that of a distanced observer
so that Diane's triumphant graduation from her job-training course is
captured by lenser Tsuyoshi Kimoto in lively hand-held close-up while
Donyaeh's return home is framed in a long-shot tableau from the next
room. Impressionistic imagery, often shot in dreamy, soft-focus
black-and-white, accompanies voice-over monologues wherein Diane
recounts her addiction or Love her time on the streets.
It could be argued that the presence of the camera gooses the women to
greater efforts than they might otherwise have expended, but it soon
becomes apparent that, being on public assistance, they already exist
under far less benign surveillance, and are continually reported upon
Dworkin's camera becomes a kind of friendly witness, recording a
supervised visit between mother and baby or a meeting with a lawyer or
the aftermath of a crisis. At other times, the camera wanders restlessly
as couples fight in their separate corners or mother and daughter hammer
out a fragile truce.
Haunting the whole family is the specter of Charles, the eldest son who
kept his siblings fed and functioning when their mother couldn't, and
who had three years of college under his belt when he blew his brains
out. Both Diane and Love, unsurprisingly, are diagnosed as clinically
depressed. In the face of this legacy, the fact that they keep striving
seems amazing. That they often succeed seems semi-miraculous.
The confluence of relatively inexpensive video stock and the
all-important precedent of "Hoop Dreams" have led to the opportunity to
follow a sweeping story in depth and through time. Dworkin brilliantly
uses the form to involve the viewer in a warts-and-all complexity that
confounds facile judgment, while recreating the frustrating slowness of
a system of social services that often nurtures the very ills it
attempts to cure.
THE VILLAGE VOICE
Schools of Hard Knocks
by J. HOBERMAN
Few impulses in movie reviewing are stronger than the desire to pat the
back of a worthy project. No surprise then that Jennifer Dworkin's
years-in-the-making 2 1/2-hour portrait of a former crack addict and her
HIV-positive teenage daughter inspired enthusiastic accolades on its New
York Film Festival premiere; what's more remarkable is how much Love &
Diane deserved them.
Can you be persuaded to see for yourself? From first shot to last,
Dworkin's movie is a continuously absorbing, sometimes revelatory,
frequently moving experience; as documentary filmmaking it's not only
amazingly intimate but also characterized by an unexpected lyricism.
Dworkin evidently knew her subjects for some years before she began
documenting their lives. The movie begins at the point where
fortysomething Diane has managed to regain custody of her five surviving
children and Love, the eldest of these, has just had her first baby,
Donyaeh. That the infant was born HIV-positive is not unmitigated
tragedy; his condition enhances the family's public assistance grant and
enables them to leave East New York for a better apartment in Flatbush.
The birth of the baby also allows Dworkin an emotional recapitulation of
the family's history. When the generally upbeat Diane's grandmaternal
instinct kicks in, Love becomes wildly jealous of little Donyaeh. Love's
sense of deprivation is existential. She spent years in foster care,
lived on the streets, and still feels guilty that, at age eight, she
told school authorities that her mother was smoking crack.
The relationship between the two women deteriorates; Love neglects
Donyaeh and rages at Diane. Diane loses control and calls child welfare.
Donyaeh winds up in foster care. (Too late, Diane wonders how they will
pay the rent without custody of the child.) Love manages to get herself
a lawyer to help get Donyaeh back. Thus, the family's internal dynamics
are intimately bound up in the workings of the social welfare
bureaucracy and subject to the rulings of family court. The ubiquitous
presence of the filmmaker is but another aspect of the surveillance
Having prevailed over her own family history of alcoholism and
abandonment, Diane is both articulate and self-aware in explaining her
life; Love, who is very much her mother's daughter, uses the movie to
vent a boundless anger. Her looks keep changing; her moods swing and her
weight fluctuates. To a large degree, this is the drama of her struggle
with self-knowledge against a complex backstory of abuse, violence, and
neglect. In some respects, Love & Diane is an extreme example of a
universal situation: Love blames her mother for her condition, refusing
to accept responsibility. She resists her therapy, stubbornly clutching
her symptoms. (At the same time, she is no less determined in her quest
to regain Donyaeh.)
Throughout, Dworkin intersperses interviews and observational scenes
with shards of Super-8 subjectivity - footage either shot by the
principals or narrated by them. The opening image of a car windshield in
the rain, accompanied by Diane's autobiographical voice-over, suggests
that heaven itself is weeping. Rooted as it is in a specific milieu, the
film has a cosmic aspect: Love recapitulates Diane's life. The passage
of time is measured by Donyaeh's development.
It's illuminating that Love & Diane would follow Steve James's
comparable Stevie into Film Forum. Both documentaries are epic, highly
personal enterprises in which the filmmakers were for years entwined, if
not embedded, in the damaged lives of their subjects; both are examples
of cinematic social work. The relatively privileged filmmakers expose
and dramatize the pathology of poverty, the cost of ignorance, the
ongoing generational patterns of abandonment and abuse. The procedural
precedent for both movies is Hoop Dreams, a study of two high school
basketball prospects, which James made as part of a three-man
collective. But while Love & Diane is enormously engaging, Stevie is a
disaster, which is not to say that some won't find it fascinating.
If the self-effacing Dworkin is barely in evidence, James makes his own
conflicted relationship with his subject central. Brave or foolish,
Stevie is thus burdened with the filmmaker's own neediness and guilt.
Worse, Stevie appears to realize that the entire basis of his
relationship with James is making this movie. His misery has made him a
star. Where invisible Dworkin (whose surrogate is perhaps Love's
indefatigable lawyer) chooses to show Love and Diane using her film as
their means of recognition, James's less expressive, more pathetic
subject seems only able to communicate his yearning for any sort of
As Stevie has committed a serious crime, his fate is already sealed. The
only possible atonement is the filmmaker's. By contrast, Love & Diane is
a more open-ended enterprise. (Will Diane manage to get a job? Can Love
handle motherhood? Therapy? Has she really forgiven Diane?) What's more,
Dworkin's film feels like a collaborative enterprise; her subjects are
the authors of their lives. The struggle for redemption is hardly an
uncommon movie story, but Love & Diane redeems that cliché - an ongoing
THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Welfare as they know it: Moving look at a N.Y. family
By JAMI BERNARD
The next time some idiot complains about "welfare queens,"
and lumps a whole segment of the population into one big stereotype,
refer that individual to Jennifer Dworkin's amazing documentary
"Love & Diane."
Dworkin followed a matriarchal African-American family over several
years as it struggled with New York's social and family services.
The family members tried desperately to break the cycle of
dependence and subpar parenting, moving through a bureaucratic maze
that often made things worse when it wasn't making things
Diane, in her 40s, is trying to make up for a drug-addled past when
she abandoned her six children to the foster-care system. Now she's
straight and has most of her semi-grown children back (her eldest
committed suicide in his 20s), but they are all strangers to one
another. There is no apartment in the city large enough, even if
their subsidies could afford one, to contain the explosive emotions
the reconciliation brings.
Love is one of Diane's children, now 18 and a new mother herself.
Soon she, too, is repeating Mom's mistakes. She is so choked with
anger, guilt and depression that she loses her baby to foster care
and spends the remainder of this documentary trying to get him back.
The footage, free of talking-head experts, is mostly
self-explanatory, and the fates of these family members are varied
and surprising. It is bittersweet to note that behind every
stereotype lurks an individual with a back story that would make all
the difference if it was known. But there are only a finite number
of filmmakers with the devotion, patience and ability to tease out
Love and Diane
By NICHOLAS SCHAGER
Love and Diane, Jennifer Dworkin's astonishing documentary about a
former crack addict's attempts to reunite her family, may be the most
captivating film experience of the year. Tender and poignantly
insightful, the film is a blessing for those who've found the most
recent batch of documentaries either sweetly superficial (Winged
Migration, Spellbound) or overbearingly narcissistic (Bowling for
Columbine); that these lesser documentaries should even be mentioned in
the same breath as Dworkin's film is itself something of a crime against
this first-time director's absorbing masterpiece. At a swift 155
minutes, Love and Diane submerges us so deeply in the plight of its
titular matriarch Diane Hazzard - who is endeavoring to reconnect with
the children she lost to foster care six years earlier as a result of
her drug-induced neglect - that one feels like it would be perfectly
natural to walk up to her on the street and give her an affectionate
hug. Dworkin makes us a part of this fractured family, and it is to her
credit that she does so not with sermonizing meant to engender our
sympathy, but through the unadorned intimacy of her camera's inquisitive
The director spent years following Diane and her brood around Brooklyn,
and the film's casual narrative encompasses two and a half years of the
household's troubled existence. Diane has brought her five living
children back under one roof - her eldest son Charles, with three years
of college under his belt, committed suicide after finding his mother's
habit and the chaotic home life that arose from it too much to bear -
but has discovered that she hardly knows them. This is particularly the
case with her 18-year-old daughter Love, who is HIV-positive and mother
to a baby boy named Donyaeh, also infected with the disease. Love's
years in foster and group homes have turned her into an angry, petulant
child, desperate for love and comfort but quick to shut out the world
when things seem too overwhelming. As a result of her baby's HIV status,
Love is able to get a subsidy for public housing, allowing Diane and the
kids to move into a larger apartment in Flatbush, and for a time it
seems to Diane that life has finally gained some semblance of hope and
normalcy. But Love's mothering skills are in short supply, and Diane's
frustrations regarding her daughter's maternal negligence spill out
during a therapy session. Soon, the cops have arrived to take Donyaeh
into foster care custody while Love is charged with parental neglect,
thus throwing not only the mother-daughter relationship into disarray,
but also the family's housing situation.
That Love is perpetuating a cycle of abandonment - not only did Diane
desert her kids, but she was raised by grandparents after her mother
drank herself to death- is painfully obvious even to those enmeshed in
this hellish pattern. Love is forced to navigate through the very foster
care system she has loathed and resented for much of her life, meeting
with lawyers, social workers, and therapists in an effort to get Donyaeh
back from the boy's foster mother (a Hispanic woman who effusively dotes
on the adorable tyke), and the film makes clear that this unwieldy
social system frequently gives people like Love few opportunities to
better their lot. Diane has been on welfare since the birth of her first
child at 16 - in one of many candid moments, Diane (like Love later on)
admits to having children because she thought they would bring her the
affection she never had as a child - and she displays a sincere desire
to take control of her life, dreaming of working as an office secretary.
But as Love continues to skip the therapy appointments that are a vital
means of proving to the court that her anger and depression have
subsided, and as Diane begins to lose her grip on home and brood
(including second son Willie, who has chosen to live a life of thievery
on the streets), the tenuous stability of Diane and Love's relationship
with each other begins to crumble, with Love's searing anger over her
mother's failures a bridge not easily mended.
Dworkin's film benefits from the decision to intercut traditional
on-the-spot footage of the family's daily life with more impressionistic
black-and-white interludes of the city's landscape featuring voice-over
interviews with Love and Diane, providing us with candid and perceptive
first-person perspectives on the events unfolding onscreen. The director
was given total access to their lives, and her nearly invisible camera
repeatedly captures scraggly, unadulterated beauty in casual activities
- Love and her boyfriend cheering on a dancing Donyaeh, Diane putting
the final decorative touches on her new apartment. Dworkin's film is
overflowing with empathy even as it refuses to shy away from the women's
failings. Love is, and may continue to be, a sub-par mother, and Diane
may not be ready or able to completely heal the rift between herself and
her children. But if these two battered woman can continue to show each
other just a small measure of the compassion, kindness, and respect that
Dworkin exhibits for her subjects in the heartfelt, masterful Love and
Diane, I have hope that they'll be able to overcome any obstacle in
By NATHAN LEE
"Love and Diane," the major discovery of last year's New York Film
Festival, returns home today, and it's a cause for celebration. One of the
Year's best films, Jennifer Dworkin's richly rewarding documentary offers
the kind of deep engagement with humanity we ask of the movies and so rarely
Culled from more than 400 hours of footage, the film portrays the
passionate and complex relationship between two members of a poor African
American family in Brooklyn: a recovered crack addict named Diane Hazzard
and one of her daughters, the (at times) ironically named Love.
Love, 19 years old and HIV-positive, struggles with depression,
self-destructive behavior, and the responsibility of raising her newborn
son, a scene-stealing charmer named Donyaeh. Having survived her addiction
and brought her family back together, Diane is determined to set her life on
a new course. She enrolls in a vocational training program and maintains an
uncompromising honesty with her children.
Patterns of neglect, betrayal, regret, and forgiveness structure an
account of several years in these two women's lives. Primarily composed of
vérite footage, the film incorporates lyrical sequences accompanied by
voiceover. No mere exercise in good medicine cinema, "Love and Diane" is an
invigorating, rough-and-tumble, bracingly intimate examination of the heart.
It's a remarkable debut for Ms. Dworkin, a New York native, whose
success on the film festival circuit was launched almost by accident when a
preview tape of "Love and Diane" was added to a package requested by the
extremely selective committee of the New York Film Festival. They turned
down the requested work (by a major league festival favorite) and launched a
wonderful New York film instead.
Ms. Dworkin grew up in England, but returned to the States to pursue
philosophy studies at Cornell University. In the late 1980s, she ran a
photography workshop for homeless children in Harlem, which evolved into a
Super 8 film project. She became especially close to a girl named Selena -
Diane Hazzard's niece. "Love and Diane" evolved unexpectedly from this
"I was already making a film about Selena," she explained to me
recently. "One day I was planning to interview Diane about her, but she
wasn't there: The house was empty. The only person there was Love. But I had
a [cinematographer] and I had a camera, so I waited about an hour and then
just thought: Why don't I interview Love? I'd never really talked to
her. She'd been this very silent figure who looked very depressed and I
thought, why bother her? But in the course of about two minutes I realized
she was absolutely fascinating."
Soon Diane came in, and the mother and daughter started talking to each
other. "Some of what they said is in the final film!" Ms. Dworkin says.
"They immediately grasped the use of the interview and the camera as a forum
for themselves. It's almost like I'd given them this space in which they
could engage with each other, not so much with me."
At first, the film was conceived as a self-conscious collaboration, an
opportunity for Love and Diane to shape and express their lives using the
reflective medium of a documentary portrait for guidance. "We talked about
the ways they saw people like themselves represented in the media," Ms.
Dworkin says. "They expressed a lot of dissatisfaction with the phoniness
and stereotypes, the whole ghetto cliché."
"Love wanted to be a writer, she still does. She thought that this
would be a kind of test run of her autobiography, a way to help organize her
future. For Diane, it was going to almost going to be a memorial to a
finished life: about her past, about the death of all the other members of
her family, all her siblings, and finally about the loss of her kids. Now
she had them back and that was the end, a happy ending. Which is where the
troubles in "Love and Diane" begin."
Love's casual neglect of Donyaeh, coupled with a violent episode of her
quick temper, leads Diane to call her therapist for help. Her trust in
authority backfires spectacularly: Donyaeh is taken away from Love, Diane's
children are removed from the house, and a tortuous navigation of
social-service regulations begins.
Ms. Dworkin's collaborative portrait soon became something very
different, and "Love and Diane" emerged as an epic tale of individuals and
their idiosyncratic behavior patterns colliding with the "system."
"The events that happened put them absolutely back in the past,"
elaborates Ms. Dworkin. "When Donyaeh and the other kids were taken it was
really Diane's worst nightmare: The past emerging as this kind of completely
inescapable fate, no matter what you do. It gave us the structure of the
film -everybody was focused on issues of guilt and forgiveness- but
obviously none of us expected that to happen."
While the setting and extremity of hardship chronicled in the film may
be far removed from the lives of the educated art-house audience likely to
see it, "Love and Diane's" galvanic drama of basic human fallibility and
triumph transcends its specific context. Refusing to either objectify or
simplify her subjects, Ms. Dworkin finds the universal in the particular,
our own strength and weaknesses reflected in the lives of our neighbors.
But this terrific piece of fly-on-the wall cinema was,for the
filmmaker,"the most incredibly manipulated, worked on, edited, and
"[Cinematographer] Tsuyoshi Kimoto and I developed a working
relationship that was so intuitive that we could read each other's body
language- it was very fluid," she said. "There were times when I felt
something big was coming up I would just leave the house and leave Tsuyoshi
there. I would wander off to see what was happening in the other room. I
needed to be far enough away so they wouldn't turn and talk to me."
Observation alters the observed in documentary filmmaking no less than
in quantum physics, yet the family's familiarity with Ms. Dworkin - before a
camera ever entered the situation - enabled the film to capture unusually
private moments. "There is an element of stage management that goes on but
I don't think our presence changed the fundamental order of events in any
way. There were things that I'd have liked to have affected that I
In fact, once their initial conception of the film's purpose slipped
away into the tumult of daily life, the two women did not alter their
behavior before the camera.
"Love is pretty much the way she is in the film," Ms. Dworkin says.
"That defensiveness is always there, that lack of trust. You can break
through it, and when you do she's very genuine. Love is very honest,
sometimes too much so. Whenever she was offered a chance to soften
something, or not put something out there, she would reject that; she would
insist on it."
Diane, in her own way, is just as uncompromising. "She's an
inspirational figure for many people," Ms. Dworkin says. "She changed her
life in her forties from such an extraordinarily ruined, awful story, and
yet she still has this joie de vivre and enthusiasm. She would describe it
as faith.There's a core of optimism, of resilience."
And yet the two do change during the course of the film - especially
Love. "I think she does mature in the film; she learns that she's going to
have to reconsider what her mother did in light of the fact that she did the
same thing," Ms. Dworkin says. "It's going to involve forgiving her mother
"For me the most amazing moment is when they're sitting on the bed and
Diane says, 'You don't trust me'. The discussions that they get into with
each other are very honest. They really want to tell the truth to each