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Family Portrait (2004)

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In 1968, Gordon Parks wrote an article on race and poverty for Life magazine. For his story, Parks photographed the Fontenelle family, a disenfranchised African American family of twelve ... See full summary »



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Title: Family Portrait (2004)

Family Portrait (2004) on IMDb 7.8/10

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Cast overview:
Richard Fontenelle ...
Diana Nash ...


In 1968, Gordon Parks wrote an article on race and poverty for Life magazine. For his story, Parks photographed the Fontenelle family, a disenfranchised African American family of twelve living in extreme poverty in a small Harlem apartment. The American public's response to the Life photo essay was so great that Parks worked with the magazine to purchase the family a home on Long Island. In Patricia Riggen's moving and insightful documentary, Richard and Diana, the only surviving members of the family, render their own family portrait as they recount the challenges the family faced. Through interviews with Richard Fontenelle, Diana Nash and Gordon Parks, we meet two survivors in a family that has struggled confronting the social obstacles of racism, poverty, addiction, and AIDS. Written by Althea Wasow

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

poverty | civil rights | See All (2) »


Documentary | Short






Release Date:

4 May 2004 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Oikogeneiako portraito  »

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Technical Specs


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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User Reviews

Great little film that draws you in even if you know nothing of the subject beforehand but the music is awful to a degree that it cheapens the whole film to a certain degree
15 March 2007 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

I must confess that before this film the only "knowledge" I had of photographer Gordon Parks was the drinking fountain shot featured on the sleeve of Common's "Like Water for Chocolate". However this doesn't really matter because we are filled in early on Parks' Life magazine article. Offering to explain the Afro-American rioting by spending a week with a family, Parks was told to go ahead and joined with the Fontenelle family and their many children. Decades later, we join the surviving family members to look back on this family portrait and the many, many losses and tragedy's that befell the family.

It perhaps sounds like you need to already know the subjects to get into the film but I can assure you that this is not the case. The film does focus on this one family as Parks did but, like him, the issue is the wider themes of poverty and being black in the US. It doesn't really push this down the viewer's throat though and instead just allows us to see these themes displayed across this one family. It is interesting and engaging throughout and quite touching at times, making the film move by very quickly. It makes it look easy but I had to remind myself that Riggen had drawn me into a family I had no knowledge of and had touched me with losses of people I had never known and never will.

Of course my praise for this aspect of the film is tempered by the hamfisted delivery in other ways; and here I'm thinking mainly of the score. I'm not sure who chose that tinkly piano music but it was a terrible, terrible choice that always threatens to tip the film into a sentimental mush that no other part of it deserves. It is overused and cheapens the whole film – the stories and people should have been left clear and cut on the screen, they didn't need the "help" provided by the music.

Despite this though it is a great little film that draws you in even if you know nothing of the subject beforehand. However I cannot overstate how unsuitable and awful the music selection is.

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