The Film Club: A True Story of a Father and Son
is a parenting memoir by David Gilmour. First published in 2007 and set in Toronto, Ontario, the book describes what happened when Gilmour let his son drop out of high school on the condition that he watched three movies per week. The book received numerous award nominations and critics praise it for its unique insights into family life. Gilmour is an internationally bestselling author who previously worked as a television journalist, film critic, and professor at the University of Toronto. He managed the Toronto International Film Festival for four years in the 1980s.
In The Film Club
, Gilmour describes the radical decision he made to save his son’s life. Gilmour’s son, 15-year-old Jesse, struggles with drugs, alcohol, and partying, and he’s falling behind at school. He doesn’t want to stay in school and Gilmour worries about his future. He doesn’t know how to get his son back, and he doesn’t know how to repair their increasingly distant and strained relationship.
Gilmour decides that Jesse doesn’t need discipline. He needs healing. When Jesse turns 16, Gilmour makes him a radical proposal—he can sleep all day, stay at home rent-free, and quit school so long as he watches three films per week with Gilmour. Gilmour will choose the films and they’re non-negotiable. Jesse can’t understand why his father’s doing this, but he unsurprisingly agrees.
In The Film Club
, Gilmour explains that what we learn on our own is more important than what other people teach us. Gilmour knows that Jesse isn’t a kid anymore, but he’s not an adult yet, either. He needs guidance, but he’s not getting what he needs from school. Gilmour loves cinema and filmmaking, and he’s got plenty of spare time on his hands. He wants to nurture Jesse without treating him like a child, because he knows this won’t work. He decides to share his passion with Jesse and hopefully inspire Jesse to work through his own problems.
Gilmour introduces Jesse to cinema and the art of filmmaking. Together, father and son watch classics such as 400 Coups, Saturday Night Fever, The Godfather, Psycho,
and Nouvelle Vague
. Although they watch the films, Gilmour offers plenty of commentary, and he carefully observes Jesse’s reactions. The space Gilmour gives Jesse is more important than the film lessons.
Gilmour describes creating a safe space for Jesse to talk about what’s bothering him, without the fear of judgment or punishment. Gilmour chooses films that he hopes will inspire Jesse to share his feelings, but he lets Jesse talk in his own time. Letting Jesse reflect on his situation, and letting him watch movie characters work through adversity, are useful learning strategies.
Importantly, Gilmour shows Jesse that there’s more to life than school and a traditional education. His life isn’t over simply because he doesn’t want to go back to school. He doesn’t need formal qualifications to succeed. For someone like Jesse, who freely admits he can’t stand school and never wants to go back, these comments are very uplifting and inspiring.
Jesse isn’t the only one receiving an education through the weekly “film club.” Gilmour admits that, when he invites Jesse to leave school, he’s in a bad place of his own. He’s recently divorced Jesse’s mother and he’s struggling to make money. His professional life isn’t going very well. Gilmour desperately needs to find his own purpose again, and he grows alongside Jesse. The Film Club
merges two very different, but very connected, coming-of-age stories.
Gilmour explains that, although he does most of the talking at first, Jesse slowly comes out of his shell. He admits that he’s suffered heartbreak, and he’s lost. He isn’t happy but he doesn’t know what to do next. Gilmour admits that he often feels the same. His career isn’t going anywhere, and he’s worried about what the future holds. Just as Gilmour learns about his son, Jesse learns about Gilmour, his hopes, and his unfulfilled ambitions.
At its heart, The Film Club
is about a father and son. However, it touches on the problems with the American education system, and the pressures faced by young people. It considers the true meaning of education and how many important life lessons take place outside of the classroom. While it’s great to have a traditional education, it’s not the most important thing.
By the book’s end, Jesse’s ready to change his life. He wants to make something out of himself and he’s done with drugs. Although Gilmour knows he’s partly responsible for this change, Jesse ultimately changed himself. Gilmour only gave his son the tools he needed to change his own life.
Although The Film Club
contains numerous references to films and filmmaking, the book appeals as much to general readers as it does to film students. The memoir is less about films and more about the complex, nuanced relationship between a father and son. The book receives positive criticism from parents, students, and filmmaking enthusiasts alike.