Don’t be misled by the Hot Docs official blurb for Dropstones. Yes, Sonya is back on Fogo Island with her two young teenage boys, having fled an abusive husband, but this is not a documentary about wife assault. Sonya’s earlier circumstances are mentioned just once, in passing, almost as an aside, as part of a conversation about something else entirely. Rather, Dropstones is a document of a woman’s life after the violence and a testament to her astonishing resilience.
At another time, Sonya couldn’t wait to get out of Fogo Island, a community she considered stifling and utterly lacking in opportunities. Now she’s settled back in with her rambunctious sons Sean and Luke, building a new life – she works in a high-end restaurant – and determined to rear her children with love enough so they grow to be decent men.
With director Caitlin Durlak’s camera operating in classic fly-on-the-wall style, Dropstones offers a slice-of-life depiction of a full year of school, work and family dynamics. Younger son Sean shovels snow only to have the island plow shove it back into the space he’s cleaned off. The boys bicker while building a fort in the spring season. Over the summer, they’re working at a fishery, cleaning cod or heading out to sea to catch some. Luke purposely drops Sonya’s nail polish on the porch, creating a fuschia-style pink disaster, and Sonya summons all the patience she can to deal with him.
Even without a significant narrative component, this film is never dull. For one thing, the tenderness Sonya has for her children and they for her, as they happily cuddle up, is beautiful thing. And so is the film itself. It’s a visual ode to the gorgeousness of Fogo, whether the island is blanketed with snow or melting into spring.
There are a few confusing missteps. Sonya has a new boyfriend who seems to suddenly disappear somewhere in the middle of the doc, and judging by the interiors, she’s moved houses and we hear nothing of how that came about. But these are small cavils.
A dropstone is a rock that has been picked up by a moving glacier and then dropped along the shoreline as the piece of ice where it’s embedded breaks off. It’s an apt metaphor for Sonya and her family, having been buffeted by a storm of abuse and deposited back onto the landscape to rebuild their lives.
Dropstones has its Canadian premiere at Hot Docs 2021.