Jacinta – Tribeca Film Festival Best New Documentary Director Competition

This film is a labor of love; and it’s all about love … as well as addiction and redemption. It’s also heartbreaking, infuriating, and mindboggling in equal measure. At 105 minutes, Jacinta is a rollercoaster of emotion.

It follows the life of a young woman – Jacinta – as she attempts to break free of her family’s inherited cycle of drugs, crime, and imprisonment. It’s also the story of mothers and daughters who love each other, but don’t seem to be able to help one another. 

At 26, Jacinta has been in and out of jail since she was a teenager. As the documentary begins, she is at the Maine Correctional Center, where she is incarcerated along with her mother, Rosemary. Both are recovering addicts. It is a complicated relationship full of love, but also emotional triggers, especially as Jacinta is about to be released. She hopes to maintain her sobriety and reconnect with her own daughter, Caylynn, 10, who lives with her paternal grandparents. But life on the outside presents challenges as well as temptations. 


First time feature film director Jessica Earnshaw brings viewers into this young woman’s world with an unflinching verité approach. A photojournalist for many years, Earnshaw was used to following her subjects for long periods of time and establishing a level of intimacy and trust with them. She does just that with Jacinta and her family. The director spent over three years filming and became a part of Jacinta’s everyday life … and so do we. 

We see her begin to descend back into the street and drug life she once knew, despite having a supportive father, a nurturing boyfriend, and an adoring daughter. Watching Jacinta go through detox is ugly and painful. Other scenes are utterly cringeworthy, like when she wraps a rubber hose around her upper arm in anticipation of shooting up and then grimaces as the drug makes its way into her vein. It’s hard to tell if she’s enjoying it or regretting it. And there are sequences that are beyond heartrending, like Jacinta reading Caylynn’s letter to her in which she says, “If you don’t want to be a part of my life, don’t be a part of it … my heart can’t take another Civil War.” 

When you see what addiction has done to Jacinta and her family, it is profoundly disturbing. But she can’t help herself. As she describes it, drugs are “the best friend that never talks back.” So, she continues the cycle of using, stealing, and trying to detox – until she is finally caught in a motel room with $60,000 worth of narcotics and is sent back to prison.  It’s almost a relief for Jacinta, who has spent so much of her life behind bars. She says, “In the back of my mind, I’m always in prison.”  

Spare and unadorned in style, this documentary is overflowing with emotion and depth. If there is any ray of hope at the end of the film, it’s Caylynn, who is now a teenager. We can only pray she breaks the cycle.   

Jessica Earnshaw won the Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival for this film.  

Top photo: Jacinta and Rosemary at Maine Correctional Center, 2016.
Photo credit: Jessica Earnshaw. Image courtesy of Endeavor Pictures.

About Paula M. Levine (40 Articles)
Paula is an award-winning writer, producer, and storyteller who has spent over twenty years producing news, feature stories, documentaries, and web content. Since 2014, she has also taught Writing and Media Relations at NYU in their Masters Program in PR and Corporate Communication. In her "copious spare time", she runs, bikes, and swims; and has completed 7 NYC Marathons.