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Motherland (2009/I)
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by Lybarger

"It gives new meaning to the term ‘good grief.’"
4 stars

It’s hard to imagine the impact of losing a child, and it’s even harder to find constructive ways to deal with the grief. Jennifer Steinman’s new documentary ‘Motherland’ follows a group of American women who attempt to get beyond their own suffering.

This solid new offering is currently playing in New York and is available online at at $2.99 for a 3-day pass.

While the subjects of “Motherland” come from different parts of the United States and from different ethnic backgrounds and income levels, each of the six women profiled in the film has lost a child.

Before you imagine that film will degenerate into an 80-minute therapy session, Steinman follows the sextet as they head to South Africa to volunteer at schools where the pupils are often orphans who have lost their parents to AIDS and other issues that have plagued the nation.

Gradually the women open up to each other and bond with the children they’re helping. It doesn’t result in any miracles, but it’s enjoyable to watch the women gradually open up about their tragedies.

For one woman, an African-American named Mary Helena, the mourning is especially painful because her son’s murder was followed by a debilitating stroke.

Steinman is able to get close enough to her subjects to prevent “Motherland” from seeming maudlin. Many of the women are slow to deal with their senses of loss because forgetting their offspring is as unhealthy as mourning them excessively. During the talking head segments, the mothers speak to Steinman with candor and clarity so it’s easier to hope for their eventual success.

Steinman also thankfully avoids viewing the residents of South Africa in condescending light. Their middle class local guides on their tour of schools and orphanages have experienced heavy losses of their own, even if they live in nice houses.

The six women in the film don’t cure AIDS or any of the other problems they encounter during the film. But it is rewarding watching them deal with their heavy losses and helping children know that happiness doesn’t necessarily have a price tag.

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originally posted: 08/29/09 13:47:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

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  26-Aug-2009 (NR)
  DVD: 22-Dec-2009



Directed by
  Jennifer Steinman

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