INDEPENDENT LENS: Sam Now
Monday, May 8, 2023 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV / PBS App
The new documentary “Sam Now,” tells a deeply personal story about two film-obsessed brothers and their quest to find their missing mom. In the film, Harkness captures his half brother Sam Harkness from age 11 through 36 as their once-average, middle-class Seattle family finds themselves heartbroken and unsure of what to do when his mother suddenly leaves them. The result is a mosaic of love, longing, and loss, as well as an attempt to overcome generational trauma.
Shooting on nearly every camera format imaginable—from Super 8, Super 16, VHS, MiniDV, HD, and 4K Arri Digital Cinema—Sam and Reed set out to make a film as they travel thousands of miles looking for their missing mom. But as time passes and their journey escalates, the fun-loving brothers begin to learn more about their family’s past and grapple with the effects of generational trauma. Solving the mystery of his mom’s disappearance is only the beginning of their story.
The documentary uses a hybrid narrative approach, drawing from Harkness’ vast archive of fictional films starring Sam, home videos, intimate family interviews and vérité scenes from over the span of 25 years. Reed blends sobering revelations with playful home movies, resulting in vibrant experimental filmmaking all while the brothers search for answers.
Along the way, viewers see a young Sam come of age before their eyes, learn of Sam’s mother Jois’ complicated adoption history, and experience the ripple effects on the Harkness family, including Sam’s brother Jared, father Randy, and grandma Doris.
“When I began filming Sam in 1997, as a teen myself, I had no idea what I was doing. I was feeling very raw about growing up. I wanted to do a project about coming-of-age that resonated with me, so I channeled that energy into making short films with my 11-year old brother, Sam,” said filmmaker Reed Harkness. “‘Sam Now’ begins with us making films together and then dives deeper, as we grow up, into the greater story of grief, abandonment, and revelation. From playful and experimental fiction films to vérité footage to raw and honest interviews with our family, I wanted ‘Sam Now’ to be a portrait of life and growth—one that balances heavy themes and emotional reckonings with the lighthearted spirit of filmmaking that started us on this journey many years ago. The result is truly the film I always wanted to make. It’s more or less a life's work. I hope that anyone who watches ‘Sam Now’ can find a piece of themselves in it. I am excited and proud to share my family story and my world with you.”
Without judgment, the film also explores the complex reasons behind a mother leaving her family, and the fallout, questioning, and heartbreak for those who were left behind. “Sam Now” is a remarkable story of family, love, longing, loss, and trauma, told with the perspective and wisdom gained only through the passage of time.
The film has earned 10 total awards on the film festival circuit, including Best Documentary at the Zurich Film Festival, Bend Film Festival, Indie Memphis Film Festival, SCAD Savannah Film Festival, and Santa Cruz Film Festival. It was also nominated for Best Editing at the IDA Documentary Awards and is nominated by the Seattle Film Critics Society for their award for Achievement in Pacific Northwest Filmmaking.
Director: Reed Harkness. Producer: Jason Reid. Executive Producer: Sally Jo Fifer and Lois Vossen.