51 Birch Street

51 Birch Street is the family discussion that most families never have. But not only do the Blocks have that discussion, documentary filmmaker Doug Block has captured it all on film and expertly crafted an easily accessible documentary that is equally amusing and moving, stirring and reassuring. What begins as one man’s investigation into his parent’s past slowly morphs into the most eloquently constructed, universally relatable digital home movie of all time.

Ineterspersing decades of video footage, photos, interviews, and (most notably) his mother’s journals, Block examines his parent’s 54-year marriage looking for clues as to why his father may have remarried only three months after his mother’s death. As Block slowly unearths information from his mother’s journals and through interviews with his father and relatives, the film picks up steam, building towards the inevitably cathartic finale.

But 51 Birch Street isn’t just an autobiographical film about Block’s parents. It’s also not just a study in marital fidelity (or lack thereof). What 51 Birch Street really does is examine the disconnect between parents and children, between generations, between siblings, and between friends and documents one man’s journey in bridging that disconnect. 51 Birch Street is the rare film that is designed to open dialogue on many complex issues. As Block works towards his own resolutions, audience members can’t help but think about questions they may feel the need to ask or to discuss. 

Inevitably there are uncomfortable moments where both Block and the audience are wondering whether he should delve any further into the past, both for moral reasons and because, as the DVD cover asks: “Do you REALLY want to know your parents?” Time and time again Block asks himself this question, and time and time again the answer is yes. When the secrets are laid bare and the past has been discussed, what’s most rewarding about the film is the heartfelt discovery that communication and discussion clearly do aid in understanding and happiness. 51 Birch Street is the surprise documentary of the year. At a time when the documentary form is increasingly being used to further political agendas, it is a digital breath of fresh air.

The bonus features here are as entertaining and revealing as the film. In a brief featurette entitled Who Knew? Block goes back to interview various members of his family, including his father and stepmother, and gets their reactions to the film itself. But the four-minute “I Flunk Adultery” music video steals the DVD as Block’s uncle Josh Vogel shares the entire five verses to the song with the audience, accompanied by a clever music video.

Zach’s Rating – A
Psychotherapist’s Rating – A+
21 Jump Street Fan’s Rating – C+

For more information, and to share your own story, visit the film’s home page
To purchase 51 Birch Street, visit Amazon
To view the trailer, visit Youtube

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