Often we take our lives in the West for granted. I am guilty of this, especially throwing away items once I am finished with them without giving them a second thought. My life is comfortable, and I am blessed in more ways than I realise. Michael Dominic’s charming, informative and powerful documentary Clean Hands, is a wake-up call that we all need.
This is a film which helps us reassess our privileged lives and bring our attention to a world we rarely chose to focus on and prefer to ignore. Clean Hands picked up Best Documentary Feature at Cinequest Film Festival by a unanimous decision. The jury stated, “CLEAN HANDS represents passionate filmmaking; Intimate and powerful, it is a timely film that speaks to what is happening in central America and takes you places you don’t expect.”
The epic documentary was shot over the course of seven years in Nicaragua, following the Lopez family surviving against the backdrop of Central America’s largest garbage dump, La Chureca. When the film opens, we see shots of a vast mountain made out of rubbish surrounded in fog, like some eerie dystopian world. This isn’t the future, but very much the present.
The family lives in extreme poverty. They live in small tin shack which leaks when it rains. The mother (Blanca) shows the crew around the small shack, introducing the children, who all seem to be in high spirits, showing off for the cameras and presenting their pet rooster. None of these children have ever spent a day of their lives at school.
The father (Javier) sums their life up in one hard-hitting statement, “My life is like an animal’s.” The parents do their best to provide for their children. However, this is the only life they have ever known, and there seems to be no easy quick fix solution in sight.
“Michael Dominic’s charming, informative and powerful documentary Clean Hands, is a wake-up call that we all need.”
The family all work at the dump, searching for items they can sell, whether it be empty bottles or logs. It’s hard to see the children grabbing ”The stuff no one eats”. The sight of their bare feet and hands in the rotting rubbish, is truly heartbreaking.
There aren’t enough words to describe the overwhelming sense of sadness that one feels towards this family. If you thought Capernaum was a tough watch, then Clean Hands is a whole new level. Clean Hands is one of the most heart-rending documentaries you will ever watch.
Hope for the family comes in the form of an American philanthropist, who has heard of their struggle. She comes to their aid, building them a small house in the country that sits on land they can farm. The kids can attend school for the first time, and the family can escape the desolation and dead-end life of La Chureca.
At first, the family seem happy with their new life. Blanca cries at the sight of her children in school uniform, overwhelmed with pride. However, Blanca seems unable to adjust to this new life, feeling trapped and taking her frustrations out on the children.
Life has been particularly cruel to Blanca who speaks openly about being brutally gang raped at the age of 14. Her past demons seem to follow her, and she misses her city life in Managua. In an unexpected turn of events, pregnant Blanca abandons her family, leaving Javier alone to care for the children in the country, making their promising new future uncertain.
The director continues to follow the family’s story, capturing the search for Blanca, the aftermath of her decision and the mystery of what happened to her baby. Life is full of unexpected turns, making reality stranger than fiction.
“Clean Hands is a powerful story of real human drama.”
As mentioned, this is a hard documentary to watch. There are moments which will leave even the toughest of souls on the brink of tears. The documentary never sets out to exploit these people. It isn’t filmed in spite, or to mock them, but manages to capture them in a sincere and kind manner. The filmmakers genuinely have good intentions.
Clean Hands is a powerful story of real human drama, which isn’t artificial or dramatized for the sake of the cameras. This is a real family who have their individual flaws, but are just trying to better their lives.
Michael Dominic is an multi-award winning documentary filmmaker and photographer from New York City. You may be aware of another film of his called Sunshine Hotel, about the notorious hotel in New York City, which is a home for hobos, drunks and the various downtrodden.
For the last decade he has dedicated his life to making work that has a social conscience. And Clean Hands has one hell of a conscience. It is a film that we should all seek out and watch, because stories like the one depicted in Clean Hands, deserve to be seen and heard.
You can find out more about Clean Hands here.