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'Sam Now' explores the emotional toll of maternal abandonment

caption: Sam Harkness, age 19, dressed as his alter ego
The Blue Panther on Mt. Hood in Oregon, 2005
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Sam Harkness, age 19, dressed as his alter ego The Blue Panther on Mt. Hood in Oregon, 2005
Harkness Family

For 25 years, Reed Harkness has been making films with his younger half-brother, Sam. It all began when they were kids at their home in Seattle's Northgate neighborhood. Reed’s camera rolled as Sam jumped out of trees, acted out mysteries, and created a superhero character called The Blue Panther.

Reed’s camera kept rolling when Sam’s mother, Jois, disappeared, leaving behind two teenaged sons and no clue as to her whereabouts.

A few years later, Reed followed Sam, AKA The Blue Panther, on a quest to find his mom and understand why she left.

Reed continued filming over decades, as Sam and the rest of his family grappled with Jois’ decision to leave without a word.

Now that 25-plus year journey has been released as a documentary called "Sam Now."

"Sam Now" will premiere, Monday, May 8, at 10:00pm on the PBS program "Independent Lens." It will also be available to stream on the PBS app.

Soundside host Libby Denkmann sat down with the filmmaker, Reed Harkness.

"It was so hard as the older brother," Harkness said, describing life after Jois left. "I always wanted an older brother figure. So when I had the opportunity, I was really tuned in to the emotional landscape of my brothers, Sam and Jared."

Jared, Harkness said, fell into a depression after his mother's departure; Sam deflected the pain.

The documentary follows the family as they struggle to understand Jois' decision, confront their own feelings, and attempt to move on.

Listen to the full interview by hitting the play button above.

A quick warning: This conversation does include some spoilers for the film.

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