In 1969, documentarian Ralph Arlyck made “Sean,” a notorious 15-minute short in which his four-year-old neighbor chirps casually about smoking pot and living with speed addicts in his parents’ Haight-Ashbury crash pad. Nearly three decades later, Arlyck returned to San Francisco to meet the adult Sean. Following Sean unfolds over the next several years, as Sean settles into his thirties, starts a family and continues working as an electrician (despite having finished college). Arlyck’s unpretentious documentary soberly reflects on the profoundly mixed legacy of the 1960s, interweaving Sean’s story with the filmmaker’s own.
Clearly perturbed at the co-opting of the original “Sean” by right-wing backlashers, Arlyck wisely avoids using a single case study as the basis for grandiose sociological extrapolation, instead focusing rigorously on the subject of divergent values. The rejection of traditional employment by Sean’s father, Johnny, a banker’s son who remains a true believer in the hippie ethos of absolute freedom, is contrasted with Sean’s take-it-for-granted indifference toward his mundane job, with the filmmaker locating his own self-made career somewhere in between. Arlyck’s narration is a bit ponderous at times, but this is that rare first-person doc in which the autobiographical material never feels gratuitous—indeed, a scene of the director walking with his sons through present-day Berkeley might be the film’s most poignant reflection on the inevitable shortcomings of memory. (Now playing; Cinema Village.)—Joshua Land