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Jennifer Steinman's Quest for Healing Led Her to "Motherland"
Jennifer Steinman.jpg

By Jennifer Massoni

If anyone ever says you can't produce a film in four months, they haven't met Jennifer Steinman.A couple of years ago, the Berkeley, California-born film editor came to the Red Room Writers Societyand got to work on a script. "I found the Red Room online and thought, ‘Wow, this looks great.' I went, met with Ivory Madison, and took her advice. I only wrote in the Red Room, and within two and half months I had written a full first draft of my script. I was kind of in shock. I had never given myself permission to call myself a writer before."

When the shock settled, however, Steinman had a brand new idea-the culmination of a year of "regrouping," she says. "My friend lost a son, and I watched her deal with grief and its different stages." Steinman had also read Stephen Lewis's Race Against Timeand resonated with his perspective: Africa-where nearly every citizen has lost at least one relative to warfare, genocide, or AIDS-is "a continent in mourning." Steinman made a connection and asked a significant question: If she gathered a group of mothers who each had lost children and documented their travel to and volunteer work in Africa, could that be a healing experience?

One of six mothers who accompanied Jennifer Steinman to Africa.Six diverse mothers with one tragic bond later, Steinman was in South Africa for the first seventeen days of December, 2006, filming what would become the upcoming documentary film, Motherland. It was during the editing process (Steinman shot close to one hundred hours of footage) that she learned what her film was, in truth, about. "I really thought going on the trip was about how working with kids would be a healing, life-changing experience for them," Steinman says. "That was a piece of it. But what happened more, and what the story really was, was being together with other women who understood and got what it means to lose a child. The women ended up talking about their kids non-stop and didn't have to worry about making people uncomfortable." Steinman believes that in the United States, open dialogue and community support about grief and personal loss-a critical therapy-doesn't exist in the same way it does abroad.

An American mother dances with African children in the film "Motherland." Ultimately, Steinman makes a global and inspiring statement about grief. "I'm a storyteller, that's what I do for a living," she says. "I hope this story touches people, and can make a difference." Her greatest hope for the film, which is still in the editing process and will be completed by April, is what it says to people in need of hope and healing. "When someone dies in your life, this has the possibility to be transformed into a gift." While that may make some uncomfortable to think about, Steinman is a writer and filmmaker who understands the powerful effects of speaking openly about the reality of grief and, ultimately, the beauty of life. Steinman discovered yet another truth through the support she found in the Red Room. "Like a lot of people, I always said other people are writers, I'm not a writer. The truth is, I am."

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