by Elizabeth Stoddard
Izzy Chan, inspired by her own experience as primary breadwinner for her family, wanted to hear more from other families in similar circumstances. The result is her documentary, The Big Flip, which premiered Friday night at Austin Film Festival. The filmmaker and her crew checked in with four families over a period of 18 months.
The families share the common thread of the mothers/wives earning high enough wages that the fathers/husbands can care for the kids at home. But the diverse subjects have different reasons and reactions to their situations. Chuck in D.C. was laid off and is on the lookout for a new position, even as he tries running a daddy-day-care. Actor Ross is supported emotionally & financially by wife Julee as they move from Nashville to Los Angeles for his career (and hers). Bonnie’s office is in San Francisco while her husband Chip and three kids are based in Portland…this becomes far more challenging as she has a new baby.
The most tension plays in scenes at Robyn and Fred’s home in Seattle. As she wishes she could stop working or go part-time to spend more time home with the kids, her husband — a retired snowboarding expert — appears to take advantage of his situation. Their family dynamic is fascinating to watch, although it certainly seems precarious.
At the premiere, Chan said she wanted to provide stories behind the (scary) statistics… although she includes statistics in between the family segments in her film. There are also a few sequences with experts speaking on the topic, illustrated by animation. Still photography of the families is incorporated throughout, adding to the intimate feeling of The Big Flip.
With a somewhat brief running time, The Big Flip doesn’t go too deep into how this modern situation affects gender roles and only slightly touches on issues of privilege. It is best at providing glimpses into very real moments between the couples. The editing adds extra impact, especially as it provides a sort of parallel or comparison of daily life between husband and wife. I can’t imagine how long the editing process must have been (*six* families were actually filmed, so two were left out). Chan’s film isn’t heavy on agenda; it’s a matter-of-fact capture of a span of time with these families as they deal with setbacks and new possibilities.
The Big Flip screens again 7:30pm tonight at Rollins Theatre.