We the Animals
by director/co-writer Jeremiah Zagar
I wrote this letter to my son for his mother to read to him when I left to film We the Animals:
“My son, I left yesterday for Utica and you hugged me, wrapped your legs and arms around me more tightly than ever before; and when I pulled you from me and placed you in your grandmother’s arms you wailed. I wish I were with you now; I am a father and a husband but I am also a filmmaker and one day you will claim a path and maybe you will have a son and you will be torn just as I am, about leaving. Filmmaking is something I have a need to do. It fills me with pride and fear and love and joy and I need those things. One day you will need those things.
“We will Skype tonight and I will wish I were holding you, that you were babbling away in my arms or by my shins or across the room. And despite the fact that I am making this film away from you now, I want you to know that when push comes to shove I am a father first, I am your father. And though I may seem gone I am in fact always here, waiting for you. I will always be here.”
Making the film was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. It broke me in more ways than I can count but it also made me a better father. It showed me how much I need and rely on the messy love of my family. The film, based on the incredible novel by Justin Torres, is about that messy love. It’s about fatherhood, motherhood and childhood. And in these terrifying times, it is a story that brings me hope. Hope for connection, for deeper feeling, for freedom, and hope that one day my son will see it and understand why I left him for that month when he was very young. That I made the movie for the world to see but more than that, I made the movie for him.