Tim Sisarich is the director and narrator of Irreplaceable, a new documentary examining the state of the family in the world today. The film, produced by Focus on the Family, will be screened in movie theaters around the country on May 6. We had the opportunity to talk with Sisarich about the film.
Insider Online: Why do we need a documentary about the family?
Tim Sisarich: When families thrive, individuals and society thrive. Few would argue that families are thriving, and we need to know why. The state of the family affects every person on this planet.
Over the past 40 to 50 years, we’ve seen a great deal of change in the world. A lot of it has been good, especially in terms of medical and technological advancements. But nearly all of the changes in how families are formed—or not formed—have been harmful to human thriving, especially for children. We wanted to take people on a journey to understand why families are so important for individuals and society.
IO: Why should we care what the culture has to say about the family?
TS: What the culture says about family is simply a reflection of our collective worldview. If we don’t understand just how vital the family—and especially God’s design for it—is to holding society together, our nation will crumble.
The statistics related to fatherlessness drive this powerfully home. When children grow up without a dad in the home, they’re two to three times more likely to do poorly in school and drop out, become a victim of domestic violence, be arrested for criminal behavior, get pregnant outside marriage, and be involved in drug use. They’re also nearly guaranteed to live some part of their childhood in poverty.
Family structure matters. Because we care about the people involved, we can’t ignore what culture has to say about families when it leads to brokenness.
IO: What do we learn about the family from studying different cultures?
TS: It’s interesting looking at this from a laymen’s perspective. I’m not an expert on culture. I’m a dad and a filmmaker who genuinely wanted to take a look at the state of the family today. And what I saw as I traveled the globe and spoke to people all over the world, was that family is the most central part of every single culture and society.
And while there are so many different cultures—with distinct ways of living, eating, and working—there are not different kinds of families. All cultures through all times have been centered around a husband and wife and their children. All human associations extend out from this nucleus and the extended families these human triads create. It’s a human universal, and no society or people group can live in any manner of safety, thriving and health without strong families. It was remarkable to see firsthand how true that is. Family isn’t just a developed or developing country issue; it’s a human issue.
IO: Did anything surprise you in your investigation?
TS: I knew family was important, but it surprised me was how pragmatically vital it is. It’s not just a matter of the heart, but really drives the wellbeing and health of a nation like nothing else. I saw this again and again in my travels and from all the experts we talked to.
I was struck by how deeply the breakdown of the family hurts people. We talked to tough men in prison who spoke tenderly about the pain and problems fatherlessness has brought to their lives. As you can imagine, these guys aren’t known for their tenderness, so this was one of the things that left the biggest impression on me.
And perhaps this wasn’t surprising, but as I traveled around the world, I loved seeing the hearts of mothers. Everywhere you go, you find mothers with a deep and loving heart for their children and their family. We saw all around the world—from moms raising children in brownstones in Manhattan to moms raising children in huts in Nigeria—that moms are always oriented toward their children. It was wonderful to see that.
IO: What would you tell someone who isn’t sure family is important to him about your film?
TS: This film will cause you to look at how your own family and choices shape your view of culture and values. At the end of it, you can’t help but ask questions about what it is you actually believe and why it is you believe it.
I’d also suggest it’s valuable to join us in learning about the various ways that family is changing today and what those changes mean for each person’s own wellbeing, their loved ones, and their communities. If we say we really care for those around us, but act as though family doesn’t matter, we’ve got some re-thinking to do. This film helps us understand that more deeply.