Summer in the Forest
Director Randall Wright’s Summer in the Forest provides a thoughtful and refined insight into the lives of a group of residents in L’Arche, the very first care home of its kind built for people with intellectual disabilities. The documentary respectfully shows us inside the base for this powerful little L’Arche community, situated on the outskirts of a gorgeous Parisian forest.
Initially founded in the 1960s by young, forward-thinking philosopher Jean Vanier, who features in the film, L’Arche was created as a new home and a safe refuge for the “rejects” of society who were once shunned for their disabilities, locked away in dangerous asylums, and horribly mistreated as youths. After witnessing firsthand how people were being treated inside a “house of idiots” he had visited in Trosly-Breuil in 1964, Vanier was horrified and found himself likening the living conditions inside the institution to those of a World War II Nazi death camp his own father had experienced. He immediately knew he had to bring about some kind of change. He set about doing what he could to help, and in doing so, ultimately revolutionised people’s attitudes towards disability and equality for decades to come.
Fast forward to the present day, and Summer in the Forest shows us the fruits of Vanier’s labour in action. The film introduces us to the numerous men and women who live at this particular L’Arche commune in France, and we learn about their different personalities and interests. The camera delicately captures their individual characters and qualities, as we watch them take part in various day-to-day activities and converse with their carers and peers. Respectfully, they are not pressed to relay traumatic memories for the camera, but are simply permitted to behave naturally and with a genuine, unfiltered voice of their own, which is captivating to see.
The consistent presence of nature and the glow of the summer sun add to the uplifting and motivating feel of the documentary, which is also complemented by a mellow orchestral score. The film is shot in a calm, attentive and passive way that adequately reflects the quietness and tranquillity inside L’Arche itself, and the sensitivity and carefulness with which staff attend to the residents. For many, this is a stark contrast to the way they were treated in their earlier years, and it is heartwarming to learn through Summer in the Forest just how much their lives have since been enhanced.
Summer in the Forest is released nationwide on 23rd June 2017.
Watch the trailer for Summer in the Forest here: