bracingly intimate yet inevitably insular, “Josh’s Trees” is documaker Peter Entell’s profile of TV and short filmmaker Josh Hanig, who left a wife and young son behind when he died of cancer. Made to educate late helmer’s son Marshall on his father’s life, pic is a unique assembly of found footage, interview segs and lyrical imagery that is a good fit for fests, has narrow niche appeal in theatrical and is a fine buy for tube and ancillary.
“Sometimes,” Entell explains in his narration, “people forget about how much they care for other people.” Such was the case initially between two men, who met 30 years ago and bonded over their love of filmmaking. Entell moved to Switzerland, and Hanig stayed in California to make films on a variety of socially responsible topics. Over time, the two apparently drifted apart.
Hanig married academic Leslie Leitner in his late 40s. Diagnosed shortly thereafter with cancer, he asked Entell to “pay attention” to his infant son Marshall. Four years after Hanig’s death, Entell returned to create this portrait of his friend. Mixing archival footage, family memorabilia, home movies — in which the clearly ill filmmaker speaks directly to his son — and new footage shot as Entell travels with Leitner and Marshall to places the two men had visited.
Resulting portrait is a dignified profile of an obviously compassionate and loving man, at once insecure about his ability to provide for his family through filmmaking, and obviously relishing his contribution to the art form. Pic’s chief limitation is its very raison d’etre, just as looking at other people’s family pictures is involving only in brief doses. Tension comes in the form of the helmer’s hints of guilt at the time lapse between Hanig’s request and Entell’s return. Proof of his commitment comes in the late-reel revelation that his own father, gravely ill during filming, died as the pic was being edited.
Tech credits are fine for the genre, with seamless integration of disparate formats further polished by textured stereo surround mix. Title is derived from last location Entell and Hanig filmed together, California’s Joshua Tree National Park, shots of which appear in film. Pic was the lone docu in the Iris Award competition section of the inaugural New Montreal FilmFest, where it nabbed the second-place jury grand prize award.