Filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo has created an honest and deeply personal documentary about her uncle who died when she was only young. Family lore said he passed away from cancer, but was that really the case? To learn more about this man, Miguel, that she so briefly remembers, she sets out to shed some light on unspoken things.
She discovers that her uncle was condemned for his sexuality by his heavily religious Puerto Rican family, particularly his mother, and moved to swinging Manhattan in the '70s, where he met his partner, Robert – another key player in this family saga. She tracks down Robert and he's willing to open up about his lost love and the ostracism they both faced from the family.
Bringing together old video recordings, letters, as well as interviews with others involved, Aldarondo presents a tale of a mother-and-son relationship fractured by religious fundamentalism and denial.
With a poetic and eye-catching visual style, Aldarondo delves into a not-too-distant time when the gay community was devastated by stigma and HIV/AIDS. And she also depicts the power of faith to both condemn and provide great comfort. Incredibly moving, Memories of a Penitent Heart looks at the ways we grieve, forgive, and survive.
"Exceptional and profoundly affecting... A highly personal portrait of the importance of embracing who you have while you still can." – Village Voice
"An intimate examination of guilt, ignorance and intolerance at a time when following one's orientation always involved geographical relocation and limited contact with long adored family members." – Wonders in the Dark
Screens with short film: When AIDS Was Funny
Filmmaker guest: editor Hannah Buck