Photo by Charlie Hillhouse

Because We Have Each Other Review: All in the Family

Hot Docs 2023

5 mins read

Because We Have Each Other
(Australia, 90 min.)
Dir. Sari Braithwaite
Program: Human Kind (North American Premiere)


Because We Have Each Other is that rare slice of life doc that transcends the everyday. Award winning Australian director Sari Braithwaite deftly mixes verité and diarist styles in an easygoing yet wonderfully dense strategy that instantly binds us to her subjects. Her brilliantly fluid approach, together with the subjects’ extraordinary honesty, allows us to experience their lives in the richest possible manner.

Although the focus is on the workings of a family unit, the director organizes the film so that each member tells their own story: this diary becomes a collective one, a layered experience of differing voices and perspectives, which remain interconnected. For a film that focuses on a group of neurodivergent individuals, this is a remarkable achievement.

Filmed over five years, Braithwaite follows the Barnes/Sharrock family, led by Buddha and Janet, as they navigate life with their blended household of seven. Six members of this tightly knit clan have a disability, and even as each individual has a different relationship to it, there is a shared frankness throughout the film that highlights both challenges and triumphs.

In Because We Have Each Other, the family is the main context for their interactions. This is a loving, supportive group that works through any given crisis together, but the filmmaker wisely widens the focus to include their social realities. They live in a forgotten suburb on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia. It’s a working-class neighbourhood that is culturally vibrant but has a bad reputation for crime. We are privy to the financial struggles of these individuals who work hard every day for little return.

It’s their collective spirit that keeps them going and Because We Have Each Other is thoroughly engaging in this regard. There’s a never-give-up quality to their interactions with the world as well as to their relationships. One has to admire anyone who speaks of their troubles with such candour but since not one person in this film feels sorry for themselves (at least not for long), neither does the film, and that’s the source of much of its grace.

Braithwaite astutely conjures a visual style that takes its cue from her subjects, their pace of life, their feelings, even their sense of humour. Besides creating the verité-diarist composite, she situates this family in the natural world, a place of enjoyment and comfort for them all. She then masterfully folds in views from the larger context of their world: shots of the street, the garden, the daytime sky, or the star filled one.

The quick pace of the film is full of brief but bursting moments that pauses for important beats and moments. This additional focus on their immediate surroundings allows the director to present the breadth of their existence. Their environmental setting is a world that they embrace, especially Buddha and Janet, and this is where the philosophical impetus for their lives emerges. There’s a certain spirituality that arises from their view of life and their gratitude for all that they have.

In Because We Have Each Other, not only is each person open and direct about everything from their hopes and dreams to the challenges and trauma, but there’s also a remarkable sense of love and an enticing generosity of spirit. It’s incredible to experience their positive outlook even during some of the bleakest of times. There is always hope here and this is what keeps them going. Make sure you stick around during the credits for the family motto: it’s a rousing perspective and a timely reminder of who they are.

Because We Have Each Other screens at Hot Docs 2023.

Get more coverage from this year’s festival here.

Barbara is co-host/co-producer of Frameline who joined during its CKLN days. As a freelance writer and film critic for the past 30 years, she has contributed to numerous dailies and magazines including The Globe and Mail, The Canadian Film Encyclopedia, Box Office Magazine as well as to several books. A veteran of the Canadian film industry, Barbara has worked in many key areas including distribution and programming, and has also served on various festival juries

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