Trailer Trash: A Film Journal
Don Diego Ramirez’s family doesn’t seem real. He grew up in a trailer with his grandmother while his grandfather fixed horse races for the mob. His mom is a drug addict, his brother is a drug addict, his sister is a drug addict. In the span of three years, his grandmother dies of cancer, his daughter is born with serious health problems, and his grandfather is found in a shallow grave in the West Virginia woods—murdered by the sister and her boyfriend over drug money. Trailer Trash: A Film Journal sounds like it could be a rubbernecking gawk at the drama of lowlife living, but documentarian Ramirez’s visual diary of three horrific years in the troubled history of his extended family is made with great compassion and honesty, humanizing a subsection of the population usually dismissed as beyond help or concern. “Trailer trash,” Ramirez nearly spits in the movie’s opening narration. “How I’ve grown to hate those words. It reduces all that you are and all those you love into nothingness.”
Combining lyrically shot Super 8, photographs, audio recordings, and videotaped interviews, the documentary captures how, despite the dysfunction that plagues them, this is a loving and attentive family—making how to resolve the horrible conundrum of one beloved family member murdered by another an impossible Chinese finger trap. A harrowing scene shows Ramirez, bleary and tormented, confessing to a video camera in the middle of the night that once again he’s awakened by nightmares of carnage befalling every member of his family. Far from the image of the rural poor presented by the mainstream media—amoral, savage, subhuman—these are human beings in real and terrible emotional pain.
Unfortunately, the movie stops dead at the 50-minute mark with a hastily contrived “conclusion” (Ramirez touring the grounds of the now-demolished trailer park and reflecting to the camera on what’s happened) that isn’t satisfying on any thematic, emotional, or narrative level. But it’s a testament to how much Ramirez has made us care about his family that we’re not yet ready to let them go at just under an hour—lingering with them, à la An American Family, for the next few decades is the only option now that we’ve become so invested in their survival. Trailer Trash: A Film Journal obliterates decades of stereotypes about the rural poor with its simple witness to one family’s humanity. Viewers will leave with two thoughts: that this will be the first documentary of many about the Ramirez family, and that the sequel will hopefully contain much better news.