Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 44 min
Deborah Hoffmann with her mother, Doris Hoffmann, an Alzheimer's disease patient.

Deborah Hoffmann with her mother, Doris Hoffmann, an Alzheimer’s disease patient.

In her film Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter, Deborah Hoffmann details  her mother’s memory loss before and after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  The film is shocking in its unexpected portrayal of everyday tragedy. Hoffmann explains her experiences with her mother (Doris Hoffmann) directly into the camera, as if to indicate that she herself is emotionally ready to tell the story to a third party. The struggle and sadness she felt as her mother gradually began to forget aspects of daily life seems to be conquered through this film.  Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter “was really done out of necessity,” Hoffmann states, because “it was an all-consuming situation that I needed to deal with in a film.”

Deborah Hoffmann with her mother's suitcase (from "the Suitcase Period"), packed with Lorna Doone cookies.

Filmmaker with her mother’s suitcase, packed with Lorna Doone cookies.

With a moving original soundtrack by Mary Watkins playing in the background, Hoffmann chronicles various stages of her mother’s descent into the illness.  Hoffmann titles each stage:  the Dentist Period is one in which Doris sees notes around her house saying that she has a dentist appointment, so she arrives at her dentist’s office every morning.  Or the Suitcase Period, in which Doris would pack suitcase after suitcase full of anything she thought she could bring on a trip, which often left Hoffmann with full suitcases of Lorna Doone cookie boxes to unpack.  Some of the stages seemed to indicate to Hoffman that her mother was trying to say something. The filmmaker interprets the suitcases as stating that Doris had lived alone in her home for long enough and that it was time for change.  Eventually, as Doris could no longer even remember who her daughter was, Hoffmann moves her mother to a home in which she is separated from her past – separated from all of her possessions that could only cause frustration with the inability to remember any of their origins.  Once settled in her new, more freeing environment (a location specializing exclusively in the care of Alzheimer’s patients), Doris “was used to it instantaneously.”

Hoffmann’s partner and the film’s cinematographer Frances Reid plays a fascinating role in the exploration of a person with Alzheimer’s disease.  Hoffmann explains that throughout her life, her mother did not comfortably support her in her queerness.  However as Doris ages, Hoffmann describes the way in which her life is more about the basics of love.  A scene in the film reveals Doris declaring that Frances is “very nice to me and to [Deborah] – we all love her dearly.”  Hoffmann’s work illuminates the beauty of the fact that discrimination and prejudice no longer exist in this elderly mind.

Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter received a nomination for an Academy Award® for Best Documentary Feature and in 1995 Hoffmann received the Peabody Award “for a remarkable and profound story of a mother and daughter’s courage in facing a debilitating disease.”  The film aired on the 1995 season of POV, PBS’s showcase of acclaimed point-of-view documentary films, which created a partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association and the American Association of Retired Persons to “establish regional activities to raise awareness of resources available to Alzheimer’s care-givers and support groups.”  The film also won both the Teddy and Caligari awards at the Berlin Film Festival.  Before Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter, Hoffmann was already an accomplished film editor with credits including The Times of Harvey Milk and Color Adjustment.

“Hoffmann has made a loving, optimistic and authentic film about her mother, and the struggles to adjust to the changes wrought by Alzheimer’s disease.”  ~William Fisher, Alzheimer’s Association, Greater San Francisco Bay Area Chapter

Veiled Hope, The (Dir: Norma Marcos, 1994)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 55 min

Color, VHS

Distributed by Women Make Movies
The Veiled Hope is a documentary that carves its way into the hearts and minds of five Palestinian women who live in Gaza and the West Bank. These women include a teacher, a social activist for Palestinian rights, a physiotherapist, a doctor, and Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, the most famous of the five. Each woman discusses the ways in which she helps reconstruct the cultural identity of the Palestinian people in her life. In addition, the viewer has the rare opportunity to hear women’s voices on the issues of Israeli occupation, the rise of Islamic fundamentalist movements, and the wearing of the veil, which to many individuals symbolizes the oppression of women in the Middle East. Many of these women’s experiences address the social conservatism of the nation. One woman describes how love is forbidden to be discussed in Palestinian society and that a romantic relationship between a man and a woman is considered to involve too much intimacy. Another woman spoke of how she must ask for permission from her father in order to leave the house, even if she is just going to visit their neighbor. This same woman told of how she wanted to stop wearing her veil because no one at the university was wearing one. Her father was not in favor of this idea, claiming that her veil signified that she was a decent, modest woman. The doctor that was interviewed discussed how the most prominent complaint amongst women was of severe backache. She argued that this was most likely psychosomatic—women were expressing their anxieties in the form of physical ailments.
Using interviews and old photographs, Marcos tells the story of the women’s movement for education and political autonomy from the 1920’s to the present. However, one interviewee argues that a western feminist movement is not effective in Arab countries. What is more important than women learning to read and write in their culture is for women to learn how to breastfeed their children or to learn how to recognize cancer symptoms before it is too late. One doctor claims that it is necessary for women to understand the genetic consequences of intermarriage in order to stop the rampant genetic disorders that persist within their culture. These individuals aver that a western feminist movement is incompatible with their culture and thus, are proponents for a new movement that will work within the system of the Arab society. On a more universal level, this film serves to uncover the intersection between national and gender movements.


Julie Monaghan, Fall 2004