There is an elegant simplicity to Pamela Drynan’s remarkable documentary Where I Am. This is meant by way of praise. There are documentaries I have seen which sometimes feel the need to digitally create or reconstruct the key moments of their stories. This can be done for artistic reasons and it works, but sometimes it is done through a lack of confidence in the strength of the story itself (Project Nim springs instantly to mind). Drynan’s film has a wonderful through-line here: to document the return to Ireland of American writer Robert Drake a decade after he was almost beaten to death and left brain damaged.
Drake, who is gay, was living in Sligo and was savagely set upon in 1999 by two local youths. During the youths’ trial there was an unseemly spin put out that Drake was some sort of sexual predator. After years of rehabilitation Drake can now speak but is in a wheelchair and in need of constant care. His journey back to Ireland was to see how the lives of his two attackers (who got 8 years in prison) had fared compared to his. This journey is captured in the minutiae of Robert’s life. It is seen best in the efforts made to do the simplest of tasks such as getting out of bed or dressing. But it is not done in a pitying way.
Indeed Robert would not see it that way. He is forgiving, optimistic and genuinely moved to be back in a country that he loves. His carer Butch (hilarious on camera with a real and warm personality) is also this way and they form an unlikely but entertaining screen double act. But there is sorrow and anger beneath the surface. Robert’s partner Kieran who found him after the attack is not so forgiving.
Robert visits Dublin and Sligo and on the way meets various people who he had known and also people who helped in his recovery. There is an overwhelming moment during the film that takes place at a point that is totally unexpected. This works to enhance the moment and deepen the feeling. Where I Am is a film of deep humanity, full of optimism. Robert’s determination to let in light where most would suffer in darkness is a testament to the human spirit. This is a film that deserves a wider release.