When the end credits rolled for 51 Birch Street and I saw a thank-you to documentary filmmaker Ross McElwee, I thought, "Aha! I was right!" It is one thing to guess about potential influences while watching a film, but much more gratifying to receive concrete proof validating your suspicions. Doug Block's latest film is more of a personal journey than a traditional documentary, and his debt to McElwee is evident.
51 Birch Street is about Block's own family, and is narrated by Block. The film opens with footage of his parents that he shot shortly before his mother died, in which his mother talks about her life and her marriage quite contentedly. Block shot this footage for his personal use, with no idea of how he might use it later.
Three months after Block's mother died, his father travelled to Florida to see Kitty, who had been his secretary decades earlier. They fell in love and were married not long afterwards. Block's father then decided to sell the family home (the 51 Birch Street of the title) and move to Florida.