This film takes you to the heart of a family crisis in 1973. Jack Trunk moves his wife and seven kids from the east coast traditions of Long Island to the celebrated freedoms of west coast Santa Barbara. In short order he loses his job and disappears from his family. Overwhelmed by her husband's desertion, Paula retreats into an impenetrable alcoholic fugue. Now abandoned by both parents and a continent away from their tight-knit Catholic clan, the kids must fend for themselves. And they do, bonding together tighter than ever to save each other and themselves.
Wrecked families are not unusual. Overwrought examinations of past wrongs can be a bad filmmaker's indulgence. But The Watershed is special and unique in that the entire family weighs in, one by one, with their own take on what happened. A son recalls stealing his mom's wedding ring to buy lunch. Jack attempts to dispel his shame and looks into the camera, daring the viewer to accept his revisionist history. Each of them paints a different picture of the same landscape.
Director and daughter Mary Trunk is careful to exclude her opinions and keeps her inquiry agenda-free. This clear-eyed approach allows the subjects to speak to the viewer so candidly, so unguardedly that you have the sense of spying on a private conversation. The secrets, hopes and fears of a collective lifetime are laid bare for your consideration.
Beautifully edited with a wealth of the family's 8mm home movies, you witness the times as they are described - skinny ties, rambunctious kids, parties and all. I judge movies by whether they can get me to really care about the characters. In this case, The Watershed had me crying tears of happiness for the family that got lost in trouble and found their way out. The story is so engrossing you won't stop it until the credits roll.