Mats and blankets are placed on the floor to serve as beds while kids ask when their parents will pick them up. Flashing images inside the 24-hour daycare fill the screen as viewers watch employees interact with the kids throughout the night.
The documentary “Through the Night,” shown at the Athena Film Festival is director Loira Limbal’s ode to the women and caregivers that raised her. The film creates a portrait of family and work when looking at the story of three women whose lives intersect at a daycare center.
Set over the span of two years, the film shows how the three women—one working the overnight shift at a hospital, one working multiple jobs, and one who has worked at the daycare for two decades—fight the rising wealth inequality in the United States. There is a cinema verité style to the documentary—which means the use of simplistic filmmaking to highlight the multiplicity of women’s work in the piece.
Limbal’s own experiences pushed her to make the film a mirror of the lives of the women she had known throughout her life. The portrayals of daily routines as the women travel from work to home are meant to show viewers that shortcomings in their lives are not a reflection on themselves, but rather a critique of systematic failures that have pushed hundreds of people to work around the clock.
Limbal was inspired to tell this story after reading an article about the daycare featured in her documentary. The article focused on the fact that throughout the United States, there are thousands of people forced to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet.
“I was immediately brought back to my own childhood because my mother worked the night shift raising me,” said Limbal. “It was this sort of moment where reading about other people whose lives reminded you so much and so powerfully of your own. That really sort of captured my imagination and that’s where the desire to tell the story came from.”
Moments of narration in the film question how parents would be able to support their families without the daycare, wishing that everyone in need of the daycare services had access to them. One daycare employee asks: “Because once I’m full, or other providers are full, then where are those children going?”
Limbal made sure to capture days that encapsulated the hectic and stressful lives of the three women. Holiday scenes depict families—who did not have the luxury to take time away from work to spend with their children—struggling to overcome the pain of having to spend the time apart. The daycare employees make their best efforts to adorn the children’s rooms with Christmas decorations and small gifts to give them the feeling of holidays even if they are away from their families.
The film was produced over a four-year period in which Limbal, a single mother herself, used every free moment to work on the documentary, forcing her to spend much time away from her own kids. As scenes were filmed, Limbal gave the material to her editor, Malika Zouhali-Worrall, to piece together and finally finish production in 2020.
“We started making the film in 2016 partially because we wanted to lift up the stories of these women that are so critical in our society and in their communities but that are often overlooked and undervalued,” Limbal said. “That was already the case before the pandemic, but then in a pandemic context, it ended up being that we had a film on our hands about three essential workers.”
The women in the film have been working full weeks throughout the pandemic—even during lockdowns. The daycare itself remains one of the few daycares open at this time, serving the needs of so many essential workers. The film calls attention to the systematic problems that impact families struggling to stay financially afloat. “Through the Night” is a film that was unexpectedly relevant to the context of the global pandemic. Limbal captured the stories she grew up with and empowered viewers to appreciate and celebrate the achievements of women like those in her story.