When film festival attendees return home ecstatic about the power of nonfiction films, a documentary like Love & Diane is one reason. First-time filmmaker Jennifer Dworkin's riveting family portrait, of former crack addict Diane Hazzard and the teenage children with whom she reunites five years after they were dispersed into foster care, focuses on Diane's relationship with her second oldest daughter. Love Hinson, 18 when the story begins, is a single mother herself, HIV-positive with a 4-day-old, HIV-pos son, Donyaeh, and a lasting bitterness over how Hazzard could have abandoned her six children for so long.
''Love & Diane'' covers two and a half years in the lives of the family in Brooklyn, during which time Hinson, charged with child neglect, temporarily loses custody of Donyaeh, and must navigate a complicated legal and welfare system for his return. Dworkin spent five years with mother and daughter collaborating on the goals of the documentary (and sometimes having family members shoot footage themselves), and the degree of intimacy brought to the story is striking in its warmth -- and neutrality. Told entirely through the words and actions of the two main subjects and outsiders and those with whom they cross paths (including Hinson's lawyer and Hazzard's job counselor), and using only minimal informational slides to establish context (changes in living arrangements, for example), Dworkin's unnarrated film assimilates lessons from the groundbreaking documentarian Fred Wiseman.
But without drawing any attention to herself as a stylist, she also quietly establishes a compassionate personal approach, doing justice to her ''stars'' by standing close but not hovering, and letting their lives speak for themselves. Her patience and sensitivity combine with the family's resilience and honesty in a work with the pull of the dramatic and the shock of the real.