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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/30/16

Filmmaker Gayle Kirschenbaum: Reconciling with Mother

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Like other women who came of age during that era, Mildred had ambitions that went unfulfilled. She had talent as a musician, and aspirations to attend college to become a lawyer. That fell by the wayside when she pragmatically took an office job to earn a living. Her boss saw her aptitudes, and put her in sales. Mildred married at 18, before her husband shipped out for World War II. When he returned, he told her that her working days were over.

Gayle's father also had unresolved anger issues about the way he was reared. Although we see her parents interacting contentiously, there is a balancing segment that reveals them as young sweethearts, through the letters they exchanged during the war.

The film is Gayle's undertaking to get to the bottom of her family's dynamics, and why her mother had such enmity towards her. "What went wrong?" she asks.

Like a flower opening its petals in an accelerated time frame, we watch therapy sessions as Mildred's carefully built fa├žade begins to crumble. Gayle is determined to connect, despite all the verbal invective Mildred throws at her. Defensive, Mildred tells Gayle that she is "abusive" -- and notes bitterly that anything that happened "was my fault."

As mother and daughter finally get into a space where recriminations are left aside, they begin to mutually mine the deepest emotional muck. Gayle's epiphany is that the way to best understand and come to terms with her mother is to try to comprehend what shaped her. It's also her move towards agency.

"You matter deeply to one another," one therapist states earnestly. "And there's this missing piece that you're so hungry for."

It takes time, but with persistence, Mildred is enabled through therapy to cross the bridge of denial to acknowledge her shortcomings as a mother and ask for her daughter's forgiveness.

It's a hopeful and satisfying moment.

I spoke to Gayle about her aspirations for the movie and her quest to bring healing to others.

It's ironic that your father tracked you growing up with his own filmmaking via an 8mm camera. Do you see this inclusion of footage as his indirect contribution to the story?

"Yes, I do. In fact, I thank him at the end of the film for the footage. I also see a parallel between my Dad and myself. We both have documented our life and family. He was much more organized than me. He wrote on the back of each photograph the date, place, and people in the pictures."

You mentioned that when you screened the movie, it opened up a venue of communication for others to express their painful experiences. Although your story is specifically Jewish, hasn't it transcended ethnic boundaries?

""Yes!!!! All the awards we won were at non-Jewish [film] festivals. I have been approached by people of all colors, races, and genders telling me how much my film relates to their story. An Indian woman, who was at a Jewish film festival in the United Kingdom, grabbed the mic after a Jewish woman said she thought it was a typical Jewish mother/daughter story. She said that she was Indian, and her mother gave birth to three daughters and only wanted a son when she gave birth to her and her twin sister. She proceeded to talk about her childhood from hell."

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Marcia G. Yerman is a writer, activist, and artist based in New York City. Her articles--profiles, interviews, reporting and essays--focus on women's issues, the environment, human rights, the arts and culture. Her writing has been published by (more...)

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