Spiritual Cinema Circle


SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL | March 13-21, 2009 | Austin, Texas 

Barbara Crandall (left) with her friend filmmaker Jennifer Steinman, who makes her directing debut with the documentary "Motherland", about six American women
including Ms. Crandall, who have lost children or relatives who journey to South Africa to grieve with similarly-situated women and children.  Miss Steinman's film
 shows this Sunday at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.  (Screenshot photo)

"Motherland" Precious Land For Jennifer Steinman
By Omar P.L. Moore/
Monday, March 9, 2009


No one is untouched . . . everyone has a heartbreaking story to tell
Virtually every country in East and Southern Africa is a nation of mourners.
-- Stephen Lewis, U.N. Secretary General's Special Envoy
for HIV/AIDS in Africa (from the documentary "Motherland")

In the U.S., Jennifer Steinman suffered the pain of loss several years ago when she lost her grandfather.  Her good friend Barbara Crandall
 had lost her son.  Miss Steinman, a Northern California Bay Area filmmaker who has spent almost 15 years in film and television, had
 always wanted to do volunteer work in Africa, and was struck by the poise and joyous disposition of the many thousands of people
 in South Africa afflicted with HIV-AIDS who had lost parents or children.  Referring to Stephen Lewis' quote above, Jennifer Steinman,
who now resides in New York City after living all her life in San Francisco and Berkeley, said in a telephone interview the other day
 that "I realized that we had a lot to learn from Africa about how to deal with grief and healing." 

Miss Steinman contacted Ms. Crandall and organized a trip with Ms. Crandall and several other women who had lost their children
 and in December 2006 flew to South Africa, where they spent about a month, volunteering to help children in need who had lost
 their parents and parents who had lost their children.  With her video cameras and crew Miss Steinman filmed for 17 days that
 December while six American women, strangers to each other, bonded together and with the people of South Africa in the towns of
Oudtshoorn and Wolmoed.  The result was "Motherland", a documentary which will screen on Sunday, March 15 and Wednesday,
March 18 in Austin, Texas as part of the South By Southwest Film Festival, which begins this Friday.

In the United States, "grief is a taboo subject," said Miss Steinman, who had stopped on her travels through Northern California late
last week to talk about "Motherland", her directing debut.  "People ask you how you are but they don't want to hear the real answer."
She drew a contrast with the African continent, where grief was collectively experienced, shared and openly discussed, as opposed
to the typically solitary nature of the grief process in the U.S., a difference which undoubtedly made for culture shock.  "You expect
 [the grieving people in South Africa] to be unhappy and instead you meet a lot of amazing people who are happier than you, so you
have to ask yourself, why is that?"

The filmmaker had never been to the African continent prior to her visit in late 2006 and witnessed from the people in South Africa
"a lot of life, a lot of beauty, a lot of laughter and a lot of joy."  There was also a discipline among the children living in extreme poverty
there that made a deep impact on Miss Steinman, the co-founder of Smush Media, the film production company that made "Motherland".
  "We saw children who had one change of clothes -- and weren't fighting."  Of a trip to the Nomondo Day Care Center for Children, she said
upon observing just four adults supervising more than 200 well-behaved children, "where could you have 250 kids in America with no supervision and not have any one not get along?"

Mary Helena, one of the six American women on the trip, in a scene from
 "Motherland".  She lost her only child, a 23-year-old son, shot to death in Wisconsin.

The six American women of "Motherland" had lost their children (one of the women is a sister to the brother she lost) in myriad ways:
through suicide, through the actions of a drunk driver on a highway, through a beating and shooting among other tragic
circumstances.  One of the things that the women, five of whom are from California, who made the transcontinental journey realized
 is that they wouldn't have to go to the African continent and put on a brave face and act as if everything was normal, as they often had
when among friends and family members back home in the United States.  The trip to South Africa was beneficial for the sextet in that it
"took them completely out of their everyday lives to give them global perspectives" about the world and the way grief and loss are dealt
 with in Africa, said Miss Steinman.  The women were also able to have the time to laugh together and share their pain together as a
 group, living together at Hazel's Homestay in Oudsthoorn, founded by Hazel Jonker, a South African woman whose daughter had
passed away at age 33.

 "I experience far more healing [with the other women] than when I'm just taking care of myself," said Miss Steinman, reflecting the feelings
 of the six fellow Americans on the trip.

The filmmaker added that the most important thing for her personally was the opportunity to activate the grief that she and the other
women had and do something with it to help others.  "Giving can be healing," said Miss Steinman.  Citing the crisis of HIV-AIDS in South
Africa and many other parts of Africa, the director, editor and producer of "Motherland" said that "there are people on the continent
living in the worst conditions on the planet, and there's no reason why there should be people living without resources."

"There's no reason why children should be dying everyday." 

Two women who are friends of one of the women in the film have been inspired by "Motherland" and have started an organization called
Project Grace (named after the late daughter of one of women in the film), which brings similarly-situated mothers from the U.S. to grieve
with and help corresponding women in Nicaragua and Mexico.  "I just wanted this film to be something that would help people and I'm
so touched and honored.  It's so beautiful to see that the film is helping others."

In observing the transformation in the American women and the children and women of South Africa during the three-week stay on the
continent, Jennifer Steinman noted that "we have  so much we can learn from [Africa].  There's such richness in their culture."

"Motherland" screens on Sunday and next Wednesday (March 18) at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

For more information on the screenings click here.  "Motherland" official website:

Project Grace website:   The Popcorn Reel Film Review of "Motherland"

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