“Jimmy in Saigon”
Screened at the 2022 Reeling International LGBTQ+ Film Festival (4/5); Letterboxd (4/5), Imdb.com (8/10)
How does one get to know about a loved one who is no longer with us and whose life no one will talk about? The profound lack of information about said individual and the unwillingness of others to share anything they know can be frustrating, if not maddening. So how is one to come to know such person? That’s the challenge that was faced by first-time feature director Peter McDowell, who wanted to know more about his deceased older brother, Jimmy, who died under somewhat mysterious circumstances in Saigon in 1972 when the filmmaker was only five years old. He knew little about his elder sibling, who was 19 years his senior, and, when he asked his family members about him, they typically said Jimmy’s passing was too painful to discuss. Peter knew that, if he truly wanted to know more, he would have to find out for himself. Thus began a decade-long project to discover the brother he barely knew, including the details of his life, his choices and his secrets. As the picture unfolds, the mysteries surrounding Jimmy gradually dissolve as the filmmaker comes closer to a series of well-concealed truths, insights that helped the director learn more about his brother, himself and the common bonds he unknowingly shared with his kindred. This heartfelt documentary thus leads viewers on a touching tale of discovery, one that painstakingly peels away layers of taboo that have long shrouded Jimmy’s story, escorting the filmmaker and audiences to heartwarming revelations that strip away the prejudices of another time, enable long-overdue healing and provide an enlightening new view of someone who was seriously misunderstood. There are times when the narrative seems to meander a bit, but, given the challenge the filmmaker was up against, it’s understandable how this might occur. However, anything worth knowing is worth waiting and working for, a truth that this younger brother ultimately comes to find out for himself.