Documentarian uncovers her Latino LGBT family history

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Memories of a Penitent Heart: A Film by Cecilia Aldarondo

Twenty-five years after Miguel died of AIDS, his niece tracks down his estranged lover and cracks open a Pandora’s box of unresolved family drama. The intimate lens of the film refracts on a wider cultural context: the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, and in particular, how families treat their LGBT members in a Latin American cultural and religious context. A story about the mistakes of the past and the second chances of the present, Memories of a Penitent Heart is a cautionary tale about the unresolved conflicts wrought by AIDS, and a nuanced exploration of how faith is used and abused in times of crisis.

Combining a wealth of recently discovered home movies, video, and written documents with artfully shot contemporary interviews and vérité footage, Memories of a Penitent Heart is a documentary that cracks open a Pandora’s box of unresolved family drama. The intimate lens of the film refracts on a wider cultural context: the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, and in particular, how families treat their LGBT members in a Latin American cultural and religious context. A story about the mistakes of the past and the second chances of the present, Memories of a Penitent Heart is a cautionary tale about the unresolved conflicts wrought by AIDS, and a nuanced exploration of how faith is used and abused in times of crisis.

The Village Voice

Reviewed by Nick Shager

Memories of a Penitent Heart may be, at 74 minutes, one of Tribeca 2016’s shortest features, but this exceptional documentary is also one of its most profoundly affecting. Often heard but never seen on-screen, director Cecilia Aldarondo digs through memories, mementos, and misconceptions in order to uncover the truth behind the 1980s death of Miguel Dieppa, a gay Puerto Rican native long alienated from his intensely Catholic mother, Carmen, and, to a lesser extent, his sister Nylda (the filmmaker’s mother). On his deathbed — from what was unofficially described as cancer but was clearly AIDS — Miguel asked for God’s forgiveness, though afterwards, no healing reconciliation took place between his family and Miguel’s longtime New York City companion Robert, who was so spurned and disregarded by Miguel’s clan that, decades later, Nylda still can’t recall his last name.

LGBT Weekly

Reviewed by Steve Lee

“Cecilia’s Aldarondo’s beautiful and evocative film explores the difficulties of not only being Puerto Rican in America, but also what it means to be gay and shunned by your community, family and church,” said POV Executive Producer Chris White. “This personal and complex portrait of her uncle, and those who loved him, shows how hard it can be to reconcile religion and sexual identity—and, in this case, demonstrably clouds the line between sinners and saints.”

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