When reviewing a film, one of the key measures of quality to us here at Art With Impact is the ability of the film to inspire action in the viewer. By that standard, as well as any other traditional standards, the new documentary “A Lot Like You” screening at the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival today (9:20 pm at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas) is a resounding success. It inspired me to start telling friends about it and thinking of how else I can help get the word out as soon as I finished watching it. It inspired important members of a community in Tanzania to take a difficult look at their culture and certain traditional practices which have devastating effects on their people and start thinking about how to change. It is the essence of what we look for here at Art With Impact, and it is the type of art that is going to move us all closer as a global community: a personal story told in a moving way which frames larger social issues that need to be brought to light and acted upon.
“What am I?” How do you answer this question as a parent of a mixed-race child trying to understand their place in the world and how they are different from the other children in their school or neighborhood? It is a question Eliaichi Kimaro, who is the filmmaker and subject of “A Lot Like You”, dealt with herself as a child, and it is the question that prompted her to decide that if she was going to marry her white American partner and have children of her own, she needed to get a better understanding of her roots to pass onto to her children. Eliaichi is the daughter of a Tanzanian father and a Korean mother. Growing up, she was surrounded by her mother’s family, and never had trouble connecting with her Korean heritage. It was her father’s side of the family, and the isolated feeling she had spending summers in Tanzania as a child, that spurred a need within her to travel to Tanzania with her parents, her partner, and a camera to document her discoveries.
The film begins with a history of Eliaichi’s parents and their relationship. It is a funny and heartwarming tale, and her father especially has great charm and charisma in relating the details of their union. This whole portion of the narrative really connects you to the characters and gets you to invest in the outcome. It also sets up a misleadingly safe & secure tone, making the revelations to come even more distressing & impactful. The film really takes off and shows its power when the setting shifts to Tanzania and Eliaichi begins to realize how much of an outsider she is, and how difficult it is going to be to make sense of her place in this unfamiliar culture. After weeks of nothing going as planned, at a group meeting with her father’s siblings she senses tension and an unwillingness to be open from the group, and it raises some flags for her. As a former counselor to women of rape and domestic abuse, and a childhood victim of rape as well, she begins to feel in the silence and in the women’s faces just what her ties to her Tanzanian heritage might be.
I do not wish to say more about Eliaichi’s journey, or her interactions with her family in Tanzania, because it is a journey that should really be experienced through her eyes by watching the film. But what I will say is that the feeling the viewer has after going on this journey with her, and the connection we feel to not only Eliaichi, but her family in Tanzania, is nothing short of remarkable. Herein lies one of the special powers of film for me personally: the ability to make a culture and a group of people so different from our own so familiar and relatable.
The world needs more films like this, and it needs them to be exposed to a wider audience. Because if you can see a person from the other side of the world who lives in such different circumstances with such unfamiliar problems, and you can see yourself in them, then suddenly that distance between you and them becomes nothing. That is what will bring us together as a global community and inspire people to act.