Directors: Yolonda Johnson-Young, Rachel Handler, Catriona Rubenis-Stevens, Alyscia Cunningham, Fran Burst-Terranella, Sheri Mann Stewart, Raja Razek, Ana Bretón
The final Block of the MOM Film Fest, a weekend festival of shorts produced, directed or written by mothers, comprises a selection of documentaries. Grouped together under the tagline The Changemakers these films explore harrowing topics such as suicide, alopecia and the American health system. All are important, and it seems the perfect way to conclude this inspirational festival.
The Block begins with Finding Elijah, a 25-minute film by Yolanda Johnson-Young about the suicide of her son. Although she is trying to open up discussion about male suicide in The States, her film is often so personal that the audience feel as if it is intruding upon her grief. Elijah was also a filmmaker and interspersed with interviews with support workers are pieces of his own films. Talented, handsome, but troubled, Elijah sometimes led a secret life that his mother tries to piece together. The subject is desolate at times but Johnson-Young is sure to finish on a hopeful note.
Similarly, Alyscia Cunningham’s film I Am More Than My Hair ends positively as the women (and one young girl) overcome their battles with alopecia. This is not to say that they are cured of hair loss but that they are empowered enough to live with it. Based on a book by Cunningham, the film also presents interviews with women who have lost their hair through cancer chemotherapy. All the women experiment with wigs, hats or bands before embracing their baldness. One woman has even set up the bald mannequin project which questions why, if mannequins don’t need hair to sell clothes, fashion models do.
The shortest film in the Block is How Much Am I Worth, which looks at the health care of amputees in America. Even with health insurance, prosthetic limbs are prohibitively expensive for most amputees, a fact highlighted when an American woman living in Norway receives her leg for free. Another short film is Amanda Torres; Relentlessly Alive, a ten-minute film about performance poet and author Torres who tells her history through expressive verse. Both these films feel that that they could eventually be part of a bigger project.
The last short is definitely part of a bigger enterprise. It is the pilot of a new series called RUN where five women, experts in all fields of politics, help someone to take their first steps into the political world. With advice on branding and networking the experts help women run for office. The Boss Squad’s first candidate is Bushra Amiwala who is running for Skokie Board of Education. Amiwala, who also features in the film And She Could Be Next (see our review here), is given hints on how to improve her publicity material and her oratory skills. The 40-minute episode is very entertaining but at the same time there is something a little disconcerting about the make-over conceit. It turns politics into a reality show where issues about female representation in the political realm are in danger of being trivialised.
Hopefully, all of these documentaries will have longer lives because of the MOM Film Fest, which also offers prizes and awards to help these working mothers continue doing what they do best – making films.
Available here until 17 August 2020