Of the eleven films competing for the Cross Section IDFA Award for Best Feature Documentary Debut, almost half are about mothers and grandmothers. Perhaps other stories cannot be told until the umbilical cord has been cut by a new generation.
One of the lessons that all art school students learn: Talk about what you know. Do not look for it in far corners, on difficult winding roads that you think you have to impress, but stay close to home. The universal is precisely in the personal.
It is therefore not surprising that many graduation films are about the family of origin. What is less common is that in IDFA’s debut competition (Cross Section IDFA Award), five of the eleven feature documentaries are about mothers. Each in their own way, overlapping in some areas.
In four of these five documentaries it is about the (great) mother of the creator himself. In two cases over two generations of mothers. Together, the films depict the difficulty and beauty of being a mother, of being a child, of caring for each other and the different obstacles that different cultures present from birth.
In the Chinese Documentary Essay Dear Mother, I wanted to write about death Daughter and director Siyi Chen ponders the relationship with her mother, who keeps her from saying she has cancer. The pleasantly still portrait Guapo’y by Sofia Paoli Thorne from Paraguay shows a paradisiacal calm after a decades-long storm, as a mother and daughter look back on the dictatorial Stroessner regime.
Male abuse of power exposed in Colombian Love Martha; a heartfelt transmission from grandmother to granddaughter. In a letter, grandmother victim of domestic violence, creator Daniela López, begs to end the relationship with her husband-to-be because she sees signs on the wall: “Stop the vicious cycle of violence that we women in this family are subjected to . ” The cry for help is the beginning of an intimate look back at what Grandma had to endure.
Toxic masculinity also plays a large role in Mexican mother. The only documentary of these five made by a man, Xun Sero, who portrays his own mother.
The apt title says it all (the original Mexican title is the sweeter sounding one Mother). mother is a film in which, apart from my son, not a single man appears in a living image until the very end. My son seems to be protecting his mother from the toxic masculinity she has been exposed to. For a long time he resented his mother for not having a father present, but his film starring his mother can be seen as a replacement given to her.
Rather than being melodramatic, what she shares with her son at battle is a personal story of violence. During her teenage pregnancy, she could only hope to give birth to a boy – life would be easier for that.
In the words of Mother Hilda: “Women with temper are the only ones who get further.”
Too big a legacy
An opposite pole with overlap in relation to mother the Iranian one Quiet House of brother and sister Mohammadreza and Farnaz Jurabchian. The almost operatic biography of their own family living in the house of Esmat Dowlatshahi, the fourth wife of Iran’s former king Reza Shah, is about their grandfather’s desire for prestige on the one hand and their grandmother and mother who live there equally much on the other, well reaped the fruits of as the burden of experienced. A Visconti-esque portrait of status and opulence within the dilapidated walls of what was once a stately fortress.
Especially in between motherabout a mother of humble origins in the countryside, and Quiet House, about the partially acquired high society in Iran, there is a fine dialogue going on, even at stage level. It is clearly up to the next generation to have that dialogue. Cutting the umbilical cord before other stories can be told. Hate, forgiveness and love go hand in hand.
IN Quiet House Grandma mourns her late husband after fifty years together and six children: “He was so mean and restless, treated me like dirt. I felt no happiness until he was in his coffin.” In the beginning of mother we see how mother still tends her father’s grave, probably alone. Despite everything he has wanted and done to her. A rooster sounds in the background. As she leaves, she slides the corrugated iron back over his final resting place to protect it. Until next time, you can almost hear her say. Like she’s covering for him.
“How do we get back?” asks her conductor son after visiting the tomb and asking the way. “Through this road there is no other way,” his mother says with a lump in her throat.
Dear Mother, I wanted to write about death (Women zai heiye de haishang) by Siyi Chen, Guapo’y by Sofia Paoli Thorne, Love Martha (Amanda and Martha) by Daniela Lopez, mother (Mother) by Xun Sero and Quiet House (Khaneye Khamoosh) by Farnaz and Mohammadreza Jurabchian can be seen at IDFA, from November 9 to November 20, 2022 in Amsterdam