Family Portrait Sittings

Director: Alfred Guzzetti

Institute History

  • 1995 Sundance Film Festival


Elegant in its simplicity, luminous in the richness of its black-and-white imagery, this family portrait combines an extraordinary collection of home movies and photos with audiotapes of the filmmaker’s family, reminiscing and reflecting on the sound track. Although the film covers four generations, most of the talking is done by three people: Guzzetti’s great-uncle, Dominick, and his mother and father, Susan and Felix. Beginning with the first generation’s emigration to America, the family’s history is set against the historical backdrop of the twentieth century.

What distinguishes Guzzetti’s portrait is his ability to reveal the complex tensions and affections of “ordinary lives” with a rigorous subtlety and poignancy. On the one hand, he can offer an eloquently simple shot of his great-uncle’s hands stitching a collar and honor both Dominick’s skills and the heritage they represent. On the other hand, he can wittily frame his parents talking on their sofa and suggest their differing personalities and chronic tensions. And always there is his ability to communicate the ambiguities inherent in the photographs and other family artifacts that he manipulates and aestheticizes without pulling cheap tricks.

Guzzetti’s family combines a no-nonsense candor with a humane regard for the basic dignity of life. There is a sense of community, of doing things together. Tellingly, Guzzetti’s family is supportive of his filmmaking pursuits and doesn’t “think you’re crazy just because you make films that have no commercial value at all.” It’s obvious that thera are other values which take precedence—and we are the more fortunate for encountering them in Family Portrait Sittings.

— Robert Hawk

Screening Details


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