Movie Review - Motherland - South By Southwest Film Festival -

MOVIE REVIEW  (South By Southwest Film Festival, Austin Texas)

From left to right: Hazel Jonker, Lauren Warner, Kathy Jimenez, Anne Magill, Barbara Crandall, Debbi Rath-Berto and Mary Helena in South Africa, pausing to respect and
remember Ms. Jonker's late daughter in a moment during Jennifer Steinman's documentary "Motherland", screening next week as part of the South By Southwest Film Festival
in Austin, Texas.  (Photo: Smush Media)

Where Words Cannot Express The Poignancy Of A Journey And A Transformation Within Human Beings, "Motherland" Expresses It All
By Omar P.L. Moore/   
Sunday, March 8, 2009

An outstanding and deeply affecting chronicle of the pain of loss, undiluted.  "Motherland" has the power to move emotions and mountains -- and thanks to Bay Area filmmaker Jennifer Steinman and the poignant, moving stories that six American women and one South African woman have to tell -- it does.

Having each lost a child -- in some cases their only child -- six American women sojourned to South Africa in December 2006 to volunteer to help children and meet women there who have lost their own children, uniting in solidarity and grieving in a collective way.  They do things with their grief that are constructive.  Words cannot adequately convey the sense of feeling one gets when watching "Motherland". 

For the American mothers, one of their children was beaten and shot to death.  One was struck on a highway by the car of a speeding drunk driver.  Another had everything to live for and tragically committed suicide.  These are just a few of the tales of despair and heartbreak in Miss Steinman's directorial debut, which will be shown next week as part of the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.  "Motherland" is the most moving film I've seen this year.  It brings tears to the eyes, engendering empathy while encouraging your heart to soar to new levels of understanding, solace and possibility.  The grandeur and courage of the women in the narrative is not only uplifting but the new-found connections to each other and to the African continent are profound. 

As you watch "Motherland" you wonder why more Americans living in the United States don't behave at home the way these brave women do in South Africa.  (Are you tempted to say that we Americans are conditioned and socialized to take everything and everyone for granted, and that no-other country matters?)

On their visit to the African continent the women are struck by the children living in Oudtshoorn, South Africa -- a country where more people are dying from HIV-AIDS than in any other country in the world, with hundreds of thousands of children afflicted, some of whom lost their parents, others whose parents are HIV-positive.  These and other children, full of joy and happiness, are glad to see the American women, who in turn forge a tenderness and closeness to them as they volunteer to comfort and assist the children at the Family and Marriage Association of South Africa (in a grief counseling workshop) and at the Dreamcatcher Volunteer Organization, the latter founded by Anthea Rossouw.

Hazel Jonker, the founder of Hazel's Homestay in Oudtshoorn, welcomes the volunteer women to their temporary home.  Ms. Jonker also lost her daughter.  She provides robust warmth and hospitality in the film.  At the Nomondo Center For Children, a daycare center, which houses 230 children from impoverished families, there are just four teachers supervising them.  There is peace and harmony in this lopsided ratio.  You see the transformation in the women as they companion the children in need at Nomondo as well as at the Labantwana Day Care Center.  The women also venture to Volmoed, a town 40 miles outside Oudtshoorn.  The director provides quiet elegies for each of the departed children of the women.  "I don't think I want to heal . . . I don't want to get over it," says one woman about losing her teenage daughter.

Miss Steinman's documentary is beautiful not only because of the breathtaking locations in South Africa lensed by Mira Chang and Karen Landsberg but mostly because of the empowering sisterhood between the American women -- four white, two black -- especially the bond between Mary Helena and Anne Magill, who is also the film's co-producer.  Reaching out and sharing, the relationship between these two women, tied together by common humanity and a life-suspending grief, is the crucible of this wonderful, open-hearted documentary. 

The women: Mary Helena (Racine, Wisconsin), Kathy (Santa Rosa, CA), Anne (San Francisco, CA), Barbara (Dixon, CA), Lauren (Oakland, CA), Debbi (Windsor, CA) and Hazel (South Africa).  With Cheryl and Anthea (both of South Africa).

"Motherland", a film clocking in at one hour and 20 minutes, screens at the annual South By Southwest Film Festival, in the Emerging Visions section of the Documentary Feature competition on Sunday, March 15 at the Alamo Lamar 2 Theater in Austin, Texas at 11:00am and on Wednesday, March 18 at the Alamo Lamar 3 Theater at 4:30p.m.  For more details about the specific "Motherland" screenings click here or visit

For more on "Motherland" visit


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Spiritual Cinema Circle