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Mark Webber’s Flesh and Blood interweaves both fictional and documentary-style elements throughout the course of his film, succeeding in both an incredibly personal and incredibly political story. Casting his own mother, Cheri Honkala, and his younger step-brother, Guillero Santos, Mark returns home to his family from years in prison only to find Pittsburgh has changed very little since he last left it. An advocator for those in the city’s marginal communities, Honkala casts dignity on individuals that are struggling to stay out of prison as well as confronting ongoing battles with substance abuse (Honkala also ran for vice president in 2012 for the Green Party and is currently running in an election for the office of Pennsylvania state representative). Meanwhile Guillermo is coming to terms with his recent diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, preferring to stay within immediate quarters to his family and dreams of making movies in the future. Webber’s determination to change and become a proactive citizen in society is repeatedly challenged as he re-visits familiar faces and landmarks. Flesh and Blood is a striking and honest piece of art, examining the complex layers of human relationships and coalescing into one of the most poignant and vulnerable conclusions I’ve experienced as a film viewer.

 

The experimental nature of Flesh and Blood cultivates an artistic realm of exploration, with its sparse preconceived dialogue allowing its characters to be present and in the moment. Webber incorporates a film within a film, using Guillermo’s handheld video-camera as yet another lens for his step-brother to assert his budding self-exploration by posing starkly genuine questions to his mother and his father, who is teetering on the verge of death due to a life of drugs and addiction. Webber’s consistent struggle with his past decisions and his mother’s choices on how she raised him and his step-brother often come to light, questioning the imposing cycle of a detrimental yet inescapable climate. Describing Philadelphia as an environment where everyone is up at the same time, yet everyone comes down at the same time, Webber’s fights between the notions of self-sufficiency and loyalty to one’s flesh and blood. What makes this film such a brilliant piece of cinematic achievement is that Webber doesn’t acquiesce to comfortable solutions or flat characters. The intricacies, hypocrisies and utterly redeeming qualities he and his family possess open us to deep inner reflection, resulting in a humane and cathartic experience of allowing your heart to repeatedly shatter and mend for both Webber and his family as well as our marginal communities at large. I can only hope that Webber continues to tell stories in the way he desires to tell stories; free of shackles and full of emotional sincerity.

 

Trish Connelly is the Austin-based guru who does booking and promoting at Cheer Up Charlies under The Nothing Song. She’s always down to collaborate and plan a show or event in town. She’s an expert with mixtapes (for all musicians out there you’ll want to send her your stuff!), and making connections with the cool kids. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.