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The Independent Critic

Jennifer Steinman
80 Mins.

 "Motherland" Review 
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Sometimes, I am part of the story.

As a film critic, I try to set myself aside and simply present a fair, critically developed and well written analysis of the films that I review.

Sometimes, however, this is simply not possible.

Sometimes, I am part of the story.

Sometimes, I simply cannot and will not set aside who I am for the sake of the written word. It is unfair to you, to the story and, yes, it is unfair to me.

This is one of those times.

"Motherland," a powerful documentary from director Jennifer Steinman to be released by Gigantic Digital Cinema on August 26th, 2009, is one of those films.

I will talk about what it was like to grow up with spina bifida. I will talk about being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I will even talk about my experiences with homelessness as a young adult.

Talking about Jennifer is hard. Jennifer was my daughter, and her loss has been the single most traumatic event of my life even though she died not long after birth under suspicious circumstances and I never met her.

It's a long story, and a story that I very seldom discuss.

Yet, there are times like this where I am consumed by thoughts of her and I simply have to let it out.

So, I write.

"Motherland" is a documentary about people just like me and just like countless others who have lost their children. Winner of the Audience Award for Emerging Visions at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival, "Motherland" chronicles the stories of six American women who have lost a child, in some cases their only child, who decide to do something constructive with their grief and travel to South Africa to help children and unite with mothers in that nation who have also lost their children.

Each year, over 8 million families around the world experience the loss of a child. As "Motherland" points out, the experiences of these families, while similar in many ways, are also influenced by countless cultural factors. "Motherland" is an intimate journey through the lives of these American and South African women as they journey together, support and help one another and learn to understand the needs that each has in grieving individually and as a group.

Among the Americans...

Teveston was murdered by an angry gang when he refused to join.

Grace, a promising youth, committed suicide.

Garrett was struck by a drunk driver.

Aaron was killed in a triple homicide.

Mike died in a motorcycle accident.

Jason died in a head-on collision.

Even without having lost my own daughter, I doubt I'd have been able to watch "Motherland" without shedding a few tears. However, it is impossible to watch "Motherland" without reflecting upon my own grief, my own daughter and my own attempts to move forward slowly, somehow making sense of it all and trying to find a way to make something good come out of it.

Over the course of 17 days, the mothers of these six young people will travel halfway around the world to unite with South African women sharing the same experience while making a difference for South African children by providing caregiving for physically challenged children, assisting teachers in an over-crowded day care and leading activities with abused and at-risk teens.

These women will grow, share, heal and fully immerse themselves into this experience. They will forge irrevocable bonds with children in Oudtshoorn, South Africa, a nation where more people are dying from HIV/AIDS than in any other country in the world including thousands of children.

Beautifully lensed by Mira Chang and Karen Landsberg, Steinman's "Motherland" captures magnificently both the painfulness of the grief being experienced and the beauty of the world that remains.

"Motherland" is a tender, honest, revealing, intimate and hopeful story of six women who find hope with one another and hope in a foreign land where their common experiences come to serve as a bridge to cultural understanding and transcendence of differences.

"Motherland" premieres after its film festival run on Gigantic Digital Cinema beginning August 26, 2009.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic