On a bright spring morning in May, Dr. George Heckel climbed the stairs to the attic of his home in Rochester, New York, and shot himself. He had a thriving medical practice, a wife and three children, and a beautiful home. Why would a man who seemed to have it all take his life and leave his family devastated?
Twenty years later, his daughter, filmmaker Sally Heckel, 17 at the time of her father's death, started making a non-fiction film exploring her father's despondent state of mind. It soon grew from an expression of anger and accusation toward her father to an in-depth perusal of the suicide and the years surrounding it.
In a storyline that bridges past and present, Heckel weaves home movies of what appears to be an idyllic post-war American childhood with dramatic silent recreations of a home life that reveal a darker side of the American family. The film paints a picture of a man few people really knew, who had, in pursuit of a successful societal and professional position, gradually and inexorably alienated himself from his family, with profound consequences to himself and those around him.
Acting as the film's narrator, Heckel coaxes her family and friends out of their silence. Through their voice-over recollections and reflections, Heckel crafts a layered portrait of an idealized but ambivalent American patriarch, his family, and the tensions that simmered beneath the surface and beyond public view.
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