(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
Austin, Texas. (Photo: Smush Media)
Where Words Cannot Express The Poignancy Of
A Journey And A Transformation Within Human Beings, "Motherland" Expresses It
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
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
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
Copyright The Popcorn Reel. PopcornReel.com. 2009. All Rights