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Claus Mueller


Claus Mueller is filmfestivals.com  Senior New York Correspondent

New York City based Claus Mueller reviews film festivals and related issues and serves as a  senior editor for Society and Diplomatic Review.

As a professor emeritus he covered at Hunter College / CUNY social and media research and is an accredited member of the US State Department's Foreign Press Center.

 


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Inheritance (2024)

The outstanding documentary Inheritance had its world premiere in January at the 2024 edition of Slamdance Film Festival. Produced and directed by Matt Moyer and Ann Toensing Set, Inheritance set itself apart from many issue oriented documentaries on middle and upper middle-class problems with frequent academic elucidations.  Inheritance has no implicit appeals for funds to take on the problems depicted nor do producers call for political action. Inheritance takes a refreshingly different approach. It presents marginalized people from the lower end of the class structure through their words and images. The audience becomes part of the community of individuals and families whose life styles have enmeshed them in substance abuse over a long period of time. This abuse is passed from generation to generation who, as articulated by a grandfather, inherit the problem from parents and relatives. The viewers must make sense of what is presented to them. Inheritance reminded me of the 2023 “At the Border”, a Venezuela US coproduced documentary about survival at the Venezuela-Columbia border through the articulations of teenagers and young adults.

Though not spelled out in the film, Inheritance takes place in Pomeroy, a small rural village at the frequently flooded Ohio river in Appalachia with about 1600 residents. Forty percent of the population live under the poverty level and the lone policeman in the film points out that one third of younger people from the village join the army, another third gets involved in substance abuse, and the rest just disappears. As the local reverend and members of the three families interconnected in Inheritance point out, Pomeroy offers no future for young people beyond addiction, the army, or poverty.

The focus of the documentary is Curtis, followed by the film makers over six years from 12-18 who was born into the Ransey family whose seven members from all age groups are featured in the film. Seemingly they all became addicted from an early age, as are most of the family members affiliated with the Ransey family through marriage or otherwise. A few of the grandparents were not addicted to drugs though one relays that she was introduced to them by her daughter who cooked meth in her backyard and sold crack. The homes they live in are crowded with many children, cats, and dogs. Rooms are shown in a generalized disorder and some houses need repairs. But the children have lots of toys, play happily together sharing their games. They do not show any signs of distress even if they are in a room with someone dozing high on drugs. It seems that for the children living in what social scientists call “dysfunctional” families has no observable impact. Experiencing relatives dying of an overdose, parents who shoot up drugs in front of them, and the imprisonment of people they know becomes part of their reality. In other documentaries, experts would redefine it as a mental health issue, but the Inheritance filmmakers prevent that excursion. There is no dressing or sprucing up of the living quarters for outsiders (and film makers), except for church visits.

Curtis seems to be the smartest member of the family with his excellent observational skills, cogently sharing without prompts his experiences with the film makers and his family, including kids. We learn of his apprehension about becoming addicted like other members of his family, a fear shared by his grandparents. Curtis realizes from observing his family, that once strung out on drugs, it is close to impossible to escape from them. The problem of getting out of the addiction is spelled out by family members who tried and failed to escape. Curtis also faces a school issue. When he breaks a rule, like bringing a knife to school, he will be punished more severely given the reputation of his family.

Inheritance includes unapologetic sequences of families in this community. We have a couple injecting drugs in a car and using it as a sales point for their home-made drugs. The son J.P. is picked up from jail by his mother who tells the filmmakers that this is not the first time she got him from jail and that he is a hopeless case. In a car accident when high on drugs he severely injures his pregnant girlfriend. Arrested the next day, four drugs are discovered in his blood and because of the death of his companion he is sentenced to eleven years of jail.

Curtis’s grandfather is very attached to him and is afraid that going through a transitional teenager period may get Curtis involved with drugs. He considers that his family “is all fucked up” and that drug addiction from one generation to the next is as much a hereditary problem as other health issues like heart problems. “You pass addition on to your kids” Curtis shares in part this interpretation because, except for the youngest and some oldest; members of the family are all involved with drugs. Curtis wants to become rich or a youtuber to take care of his grandmother. He believes he is different from the rest of the family. Turning 18, he has not made any of their drug choices and thinks there is hope for the young ones including the baby.

Claus Mueller, New York

filmexchange@gmail.com


 

 

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