Film Reviews

Review: ‘Next of Kin’

Doc follows sleuthing social workers as they repair family ties


Next of Kin
(Canada, 44 min.)
Dir. Nadine Pequeneza

Witness some astonishing sleuthing in Next of Kin. This CBC Docs POV work from director Nadine Pequeneza (The Invisible Heart) goes to the front lines of family services as two social workers play Sherlock Holmes. Next of Kin follows Jackie Winger and Amanda Elam, two employees of the non-profit organization RAFT (Resource Association For Teens) in St. Catharines, Ontario as they use creative thinking and expert problem solving with hopes of reuniting families. They aren’t cracking crimes or chasing down bad guys: they’re digging through archives and following clues to save lives.

Pequeneza packs a lot of information into 44 minutes as Next of Kin introduces audiences to two of the RAFT’s clients, Jacob and Tahylour, as they turn to the non-profit in their search for answers. However, restricting the focus to two stories allows Next of Kin to show the evolution of a case at the RAFT in all its complexity while engaging the audience with two compelling characters, their caseworkers, and families. Each story reveals the myriad social forces that can divide families or cause loved ones to be apart. These are simply two stories among many.

Jackie’s case is Jacob, a 21-year-old father. He seeks aid from the RAFT so that he can reconnect with his estranged biological father and introduce him to his newly born grandson. The RAFT offers a lifeboat for Jacob, his partner, and their son, but he’s also at risk of returning to jail and losing his family if he doesn’t turn his life around—effectively putting his son in the same cycle of problems he experienced during his youth.

For Amanda, 24-year-old Tahylour presents a challenging case as she hopes to learn the identity of her biological father. Estranged from her mother and relatives, and suffering from depression and narcolepsy, the identity of her father presents a niggling pain for Tahylour. She just needs, at the most basic level, a stronger sense of who she is and where she comes from so that she can better understand her own identity and move forward. This case proves a struggle as Tahylour’s mother dodges Amanda at every turn, forcing the sleuth to dig deeper when the key witness proves uncooperative for reasons that will later be revealed.

Neither case is clean-cut. Without the swathes of evidence that allow CSI to open and shut a case in 45-minutes, Jackie and Amanda need to ensure that no rock is left uncovered and no wound is left unopened in order for the healing to begin. Obituaries and yearbooks provide clues when cold-calls and emails yield dead ends.

Jacob’s case often makes for better drama as there are gripping turns of events and unexpected emotional payoffs as the case casts a wider net on Jacob’s father. Clues lead to the parents who adopted his father and Jacob’s grandparents are thrilled to discover that the family continues with a new generation. Even if Jackie is unsuccessful in finding Jacob’s father, the RAFT provides a lifeline to Jacob long before the film’s end.

However, a surprising turn of events and a fearless Facebook message later, and Jackie makes significant breakthroughs. Enter Jacob’s biological grandmother, who has long been searching for her son. As Jackie and Jacob’s case takes a significant turn, Next of Kin situates Jacob’s story within the larger history of the Sixties Scoop and the trauma of Residential Schools that ripped countless families apart. These broken relationships, the doc conveys, are products of deeply rooted systemic inequity that has caused generations of Canadians much suffering.

These investigations require keen intuition and creative thinking, but also compassion and empathy. This process is painful for the families, but the cathartic effects are evident as breakthroughs reveal long lost family members experiencing the same pain. The RAFT sleuths know that there are often larger issues behind divided families and as they accumulate evidence and find connections, they gradually prepare Jacob and Tayhlour for the great revelations to come. Told with the same compassion and sincerity that Jackie and Amanda bring to their cases, Next of Kin should inspire audiences to look at their communities and neighbourhoods a little differently—and to appreciate their family members near and far.

Next of Kin is now streaming on CBC. It airs on CBC-TV at 9:00 PM on Nov. 9.