Slamdance Film Festival 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Parenting is difficult. Pandemic parenting is a whole new level of difficult. No helpful guidebook exists and there is no recent similar time in history from which to take lessons. That leaves instinct, and in my first documentary of this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, single mother Sasha Levinson has inexplicably (and to my horror) put her pandemic parenting instincts on display for all to witness.

A terrific opening shot of Sylvie riding her bike in circles around the backyard pool reminds us that separating kids from friends during the pandemic has likely stunted the social development of many, while also forcing them into independence mode. We soon learn Sylvie is a 9-year-old in the process of repeating second grade. She has names for her many dolls and converses with an imaginary friend. Her mother Sasha has explained the purpose of filming their daily activities, and why they are quarantined.

Despite the title and the fact that the lens is regularly focused on her, this isn’t really about young Sylvie. It’s about Sasha. It’s about Sasha’s challenges with parenting, and her own self-centeredness. It’s also about Sasha’s need for emotional support, and her disturbing attempts to get her daughter to provide it. Don’t misunderstand. Sasha clearly loves Sylvie and provides a nice home. The best we can hope is that many of these mother-daughter interactions were Sasha’s attempt to create the conflict necessary for what she considers an interesting story. Whether that’s the case, or if what we are subjected to is what Sasha considers acceptable parenting, much of what we see is uncomfortable at best, and truly frightening at times.

Sylvie does have a special relationship with her father, who initially is quarantined in upstate New York. When he finally visits, we see the connection they have. But the visit is only temporary, and not long after, Sylvie has a horrific health scare that results in a seizure, ambulance ride, and a hospital stay. Once recovered, the chaos of online school is back in full force. At the end of the semester, another litmus test serves as a reminder of Sasha’s parenting skills. It turns out that her daughter … you’ll recall Sylvie is already repeating second grade … is in danger of failing yet again due to a sea of missed assignments. That’s correct. This mother has made no effort to assist her daughter with the structure and discipline required in the new world of virtual education.

Although Sylvie’s dad is living far away, other family members live close by. Grandma Mimi, Grandpa John, and Great-Grandmother Gigi (who has a real thing for ‘handsome’ Al Gore), all live nearby and get short, masked-up, socially-distanced visits. Even these rare family visits aren’t without conflict. Sasha’s strained relationship with her own mother, and the associated tainted childhood memories she has, are intensified when Sasha tries to convince Sylvie how lucky she is to have the mother she has. I’m choosing not to re-live the segments where Sylvie exhibits body image issues, or when Sasha tells her daughter, “I thought you liked your dad more.” Instead, I go back to my original confusion as to why any mother would put such emotional pressure on a young kid, film it, and then put it on display for all to see. When Sylvie asked, “Mommy, when will the virus be over?”, all I could wonder was how many kids have been so negatively impacted over the past couple of years.

**Slamdance Film Festival embodies its mantra: By Filmmakers, For Filmmakers. Though Slamdance has greatly evolved since the early years, its mission and organization remain the same. Slamdance serves new and emerging artists, filmmakers, and storytellers from around the world. Slamdance programmers gravitate towards films that embody the true spirit of DIY guerilla filmmaking.

2 Responses to SYLVIE OF THE SUNSHINE STATE (2022, doc)

  1. Leianne Bond says:

    I had to leave this film that was showing at a local film festival. In reading this review I realize that I made the right decision. As a family therapist I’m not sure I could’ve handled much more between the mom at her interactions with her daughter. I wish this had been a fictional film… That would’ve been more tolerable.

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