‘Through the Night’: Film Review | Tribeca 2020

THR review: Filmed over a two-year period by documentarian Loira Limbal in ‘Through the Night,’ a home-based child care center in a New York suburb proves to be not just a lifeline for single mothers but a vital community hub.

[Note: In the wake of the Tribeca festival’s postponement this year, The Hollywood Reporter is reviewing select entries that elected to premiere digitally.]

For Dee’s Tots Daycare in New Rochelle, New York, that last word in the mom-and-pop enterprise’s name is a misnomer, or at least an understatement. The business of teaching, entertaining, feeding and straight-up loving a houseful of children who range from infants to tweens isn’t limited to the daytime; it’s a 24-hour operation. And it’s not merely a business; it patches up the gaping holes in a threadbare social safety net, as Loira Limbal’s unfussy and intimately observed documentary attests.

The Bottom Line

Turns a much-needed spotlight on unsung heroes.

Most of the parents who bring their kids to Deloris “Nunu” and Patrick “Pop Pop” Hogan are single mothers working endlessly long hours to keep their families afloat. Limbal — herself a single parent who made the film while holding down a full-time job — focuses on two of them, a pediatric nurse and a supermarket employee who must work two other jobs to make ends meet. It’s Nunu, though, weary but unbowed after 20 years of nonstop caretaking, who’s the story’s driving pulse.

Through the Night is both celebration and indictment. A sympathetic depiction of “women’s work,” in all its unsung dignity, it’s also a quietly damning portrait of a merciless economy’s effect on working-class mothers — particularly black women and Latinas, who often must work taking care of other people’s children in order to feed their own. As Nunu puts it, “This is the way the world is set up at this point.”

A stay-at-home mom until a friend needed help with child care after being in an accident, Nunu built her business through word-of-mouth, and it has become a calling. Though she and her husband think about scaling back their round-the-clock commitment, each call from a needy mother hits them “in the heart,” she says. The kids arrive at all hours, depending on their parents’ work schedules. Each evening the playroom becomes a dormitory of gym mats and blankets for the children whose mothers work night shifts.

One of them, registered nurse Shanona Tate, sometimes has to leave her son and daughter for 14 hours at a time. When she does have time at home with them, her exhaustion is evident. Her eyes well with tears as she tells the filmmaker, “It’s not easy,” adding, “But, eventually, I’ll sleep.”

Limbal follows another single mother of two, Marisol Valencia, on an interview for an $11-an-hour preschool job. Her situation encapsulates the bitter paradoxes of the contemporary American workplace. Marisol’s goal is to find a job that could replace the three she now juggles. Her main employer won’t schedule her for more than 29 hours a week in the supermarket because that would require providing health insurance.

She, Shanona and all the women who depend on Nunu are not just her clients but her friends, her sisters, her daughters. Notwithstanding Patrick’s constant involvement in every aspect of the work at hand, this is a matriarchal world, Nunu its revered and adored elder. Many of the children who attend Dee’s Tots grew up there, and Limbal takes us through their seasons — the holidays, the planting and harvesting of the small garden within the white picket fence, the emotional ups and downs. A calamitous event occurs off-camera, and in keeping with the doc’s unforced approach, Limbal and her resilient subject acknowledge the changes but pick up the story without the slightest hand-wringing. “I have to keep on moving,” Nunu says, “because I have something to do.”

She and her family (a daughter works with her and Patrick) have created a larger family. Through the Night is a testament to that communal and very personal response to an urgent problem. Politicians like to talk about “family values,” but often it’s a hardworking woman down the street who turns a nice idea into meaningful action. Limbal’s film is an up-close look at just what it takes, the relentless hard work and the unwavering love.

Production companies: ITVS, POV, Third Shift Media
Director: Loira Limbal
Producers: Loira Limbal, Jameka Autry
Executive producers: Sally Jo Fifer, Justine Nagan, Chris White, Leslie Fields-Cruz, Sandie Viquez Pedlow
Director of photography: Naiti Gamez
Editor: Malika Zouhali-Worrall
Music: Osei Essed
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Viewpoints)
Sales: Beholden Films

76 minutes