Jennifer Steinman talks about Motherland


Each year over eight million families around the world suffer the loss of a child. In Jennifer Steinman’s moving and inspiring documentary film, Motherland, a 17-day trip to South Africa transforms the lives of six grieving women from across the US. Unexpectedly and eight thousand miles from home, each finds comfort and healing in a landscape that appears, at first, to offer little more than melancholy.

Prior to their journey, the six intrepid women featured in the film have each suffered the death of a child but otherwise have little in common. And although the anticipation of a long, emotional journey with a group of strangers evokes anxiety, the women all share a desire to make sense of their tragedies and to move forward with their lives.

Jennifer Steinman, director, producer, and editor of Motherland and co-Founder of the film production company, Smush Media, has over 14 years of experience in television and filmmaking. She has established herself professionally as a creative storyteller, with a keen sense of pace and timing and the ability to tap into the heart and emotion of a story.

Jennifer began her career as a staff Editor at CBS, both in New York and San Francisco. Her work has aired nationally on PBS, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, Showtime’s Sundance Channel, The Food Network, and many other television networks. Her corporate clients include Visa, Symantec, and The Gap. Her films have been accepted into many major film festivals including San Francisco International, Rotterdam, and Sundance (LIFE, LIBERTY & THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, 2001, and STRANGE CULTURE, 2006). She has been nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Editing, and she won a Telly award for “Best Theatrical Trailer, Editing,” for CAR STORIES, 2006.
MOTHERLAND is Jennifer’s directorial debut.

Bijan Tehrani: How did you come across the subject of Motherland?
Jennifer Steinman: One of the women in the film, Barbara, was a good friend of mine. We had known each other for many years and she herself had lost her son in a car accident. I was really struck by her strength while watching her go through her grieving process, especially because losing a child is a particularly painful type of loss. Then, independently of that, I was planning a trip for myself to Africa where I wanted to do some volunteer work to help out with the AIDS epidemic. I thought about my friend and her grief and then thought about an entire continent in mourning and I was really moved to create this film.

BT: How did you manage to find the other women in the film that had lost their children?
JS: I met the other women through Barbara’s grief counselor. I then sent out a mass e-mail to other organizations that deal with lost loved-ones. Within a 48 hour period I got about 100 responses of women sending me e-mails describing their stories; I was truly overwhelmed.

BT: How was your relationship with the other women and how did it progress during the shooting of the film?
JS: With the exception of Barbara, I didn’t know any of them before we started producing the film. Before we left for Africa, I went to each of their homes and shot their initial interviews. This experience helped us build trust with the women. I wanted the women to know that this film was about them telling their own stories and that I wasn’t doing this for personal gain. I tried to have a very relaxed interview style and when the women recognized this, it really allowed them to open up.

BT: By the end of the trip, what were the feelings and reactions of the women?
JS: I think all of them felt that it was one of the most memorable moments of their lives and was a huge part of their personal healing process.

BT: Have the women been able to see the finished film?
JS: Yes, the women have seen the film many, many times. They frequently attend screenings with their families and they all have their own copy of the film.

BT: Have you been contacted by any other people who have experienced similar tragedies who have shown interest in the film?
JS: Yes, I have received letter after letter from people who have expressed interest in the film and who have also stated their satisfaction with the film. I feel that grief is such a universal emotion because, in reality, everyone at some point in their lives will experience loss.

BT: Do you have any upcoming projects?
JS: I have a feature script that I wish to direct and also another documentary that I would like to get made, hopefully sooner than later.

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About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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