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To My Father: Tribeca Film Review

In the short film To My Father, Oscar winner Troy Kotsur shares his father’s intimate story of faith and perseverance at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Until 2022’s Academy Awards ceremony, Marlee Matlin was the only deaf actor to have won an Oscar in the category of Best Actress for Children of a Lesser God (1986). The record she had set finally saw another member of the deaf community join her in the historical precedent when co-star Troy Kotsur won an Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category for his performance in the Best Picture winner CODA.

Writer and director Sean Schiavolin’s 23-minute short film To My Father depicts Kotsur’s early life as he navigates what it meant to be a deaf child. Often making him feel like an outsider. From discovering a passion for storytelling by watching Tom & Jerry cartoons to finally moving to a public school to continue his education, Kotsur’s father Len Kotsur was always there to support his son’s dreams. Not even a car accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down could prevent Len from encouraging Troy to keep fighting to achieve his goals.

At first glance, you might ask: why dedicate a documentary short film to a story that could easily be shared through an interview or article? Sure, maybe that would save a lot of time and money, and would have been quicker for somebody to read. But why make any movie for that matter? Stories are personal tales filmmakers yearn to tell and share with the world, and To My Father is exactly those things.

loud and clear reviews to my father short film troy kotsur tribeca festival movie 2023
To My Father (Emergent Order Foundation / 2023 Tribeca Film Festival)

Writer and director Sean Schiavolin does a magnificent job at engaging audiences with this endearing, emotional and straightforward film. To My Father never feels rushed, despite the large amount of information it needs to provide in such a short amount of time. It helps that Troy’s personal story is easy to connect with, but the biggest advantage Schiavolin has is Troy Kotsur himself. Whether you know sign language or not, the level of sincere emotion Troy transmits through his eyes while sharing his story is almost hypnotizing.

This documentary short, at its core, is a journey mainly guided by having faith in something bigger than yourself, while also retaining self-perseverance through the hardships life throws at you. Just because things aren’t easy, it doesn’t mean you should give up. Troy reflects on this through the challenges he’s encountered, as well as his dad’s in what makes a touching father-son journey.

It’s stories like Troy’s that shine a light to underrepresented communities in the entertainment industry, while helping audiences connect with them on a deeper level. As silly as it may be, Troy talking about Tom & Jerry does a lot to make us relate to him. Anyone who loves storytelling had that one thing that made them become obsessed with film or TV. That passion to share your interests with others comes across in the way Kotsur discusses what many would consider a simple children’s cartoon, but for him it used to be everything.

On a slightly different note, have you noticed how people instantly turn against Best Picture winners the minute they receive the golden statue? Even if a film was praised months in advance during awards season. That’s a thing on social media and, well, CODA fell victim to this once it won the Academy Award for Best Picture. A cynical way to look at the film quickly developed for being a crowd pleaser, leading CODA to be called overrated and undeserving of the grand prize.

loud and clear reviews to my father short film troy kotsur tribeca festival movie 2023
To My Father (Emergent Order Foundation / 2023 Tribeca Film Festival)

To My Father puts things in perspective, though. You begin to realize the cathartic feeling Troy Kotsur must’ve felt playing a father figure to a child yearning to be an artist, and the fear of a parent letting go of their children. Perhaps in the same manner Len Kotsur experienced when supporting his son. We don’t know, only Troy might know for certain, but it is a detail that enriches not only To My Father, but CODA as well. It makes all the criticism the movie faced after its Best Picture win almost insignificant. Stories like CODA matter, regardless of people trying to diminish its impact.

If you have 23 minutes to spare in between movies during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, give To My Father a watch. Flashback sequences recreated with the help of performers can often be more of a distraction rather than adding anything relevant. That said, you might find it hard to come across something as honest and endearing as Troy’s path to becoming an Oscar winning actor.

To My Father premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on June , 2023.

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