“He didn’t say goodbye to his mother”
Wanting to bring his film La vérité du ciel [The Truth of the Sky] to the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival was an action of catharsis for Jim McSherry. His documentary short was shot fifteen years after the plane crash that altered the lives of many—including him—it is centered on. Losing his brother, who was coming home to see his pregnant wife by getting on an earlier flight, when an Air Inter flight in France crashed an hour after takeoff changed McSherry in a way that made him wonder how the other families affected might feel. So he reached out to an online group created to help each other through the turmoil in France, finding seven willing participants to film, (an eighth, he explains backed out at the last second due to the memory being too painful). A Boston businessman by trade, McSherry set off to meet and interview them in their native language, letting them share their tales and remember the loved ones lost.
In that same vein, his trek to Buffalo, NY was to help those touched by the crash of Flight 3407 in Clarence. A similar tragedy, McSherry actually originally envisioned making a triptych of films on loss, connecting France to Western New York to another, hoping to find a common thread of humanity, no matter the culture or environment. But the people he found were so open and willing to share their feelings that the need no longer existed. This American, coming to Europe at a time when US/French relations were at a new low, wanting to hear them speak was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. Having also lost family in the event helped bolster a level of trust and understanding, allowing their candor when facing the camera. And there are a lot of tears, a lot of regret, and a lot of love shown onscreen. To McSherry and the people he interviewed, La vérite du ciel can be nothing less than a masterpiece—a document on survival against all odds, of looking God in the eye and refusing to quit.
To the layperson, however—and I feel terrible saying this—the story cannot resonate as strong. Without a vested interest and emotional connection to the people displayed, everything said unfortunately has an air of cliché. So many of the words spoken are exactly what you’d expect them to be. Daughters lost the opportunity to walk down the aisle with their fathers; sons never had the opportunity to enhance a relationship with their fathers, just when adulthood had allowed a newfound mutual comprehension; wives were left to raise families on their own, moving to more affordable settings, doing their best; and husbands were tasked to continue on, never forgetting their wives forever lost. The film is not a document on the plane crash or why it occurred—those answers are impossible to know and irrelevant since those who perished can never come back—yet with a longer runtime and exposition, I might have been able to grasp hold of something. Instead, hearing these people cry and remember, while important and necessary for them, can never truly resonate with outsiders.
As a result, this film is a brilliant document of loss and a wonderful study in common humanity as the tagline suggests, it just doesn’t necessarily succeed on the merits of being something to experience if uninvolved in the catharsis. However, for every young girl lamenting how the loss of her father caused bad grades and a lackluster drive in school—I personally could never use tragedy as an excuse for anything; easy for me to say, I know—there is one 37-year old gentleman sitting in a park, giving the most authentic account of the bunch. His reactions are so unfiltered that they are refreshing to hear and completely captivating. He has refused to talk about the memory—he and his son constructed an unwritten pact to let it be—he has retained no photos, and he has brushed off any need for psychiatrists, no matter how much he understands they could help. Desperately trying to move on, he still finds a way to brilliantly answer the question of what he would do if he had 24 more hours with his father. He’d find any way he could to extend the visit even longer.