Once My Mother

Compelling doco

This is an Australian film made by Sophia Turkiewicz about her Polish mother, Helen, who put her into an Adelaide orphanage as a young child.

It won the Best Documentary Audience Award at the 2014 Adelaide Film Festival, and won an Audience Award at the 2014 Krakow Film Festival in Poland. The story spans seven decades, and stretches in time over many years and five countries.

The film explores Sophia's troubled relationship with her mother, who is illiterate and was denied an education by her foster-parents. Finding that her mother is slipping into dementia, Sophia tries to grasp the meaning of forgiveness.

She knows she should forgive, but she finds herself facing unsettling questions about her past. Is it too late to forgive a mother she never really knew, and why did her mother do what she did?

The film literally unravels stories as the movie is made. It is the story not only of the mother, but also of the film's Director, who emotionally reveals her feelings toward her mother as the movie progresses.

It becomes a film about two stories being worked out together, and the documentary is particularly effective in the way it uses the first person narrative to convey two different points of view.

The narrative strength achieved by the combination is emotionally powerful, and quite distinctive within the documentary genre. For the Director, 'our stories tell me who I am.' The mother's narrative is both hers and 'becomes the child's story' as well.

In the documentary, Turkiewicz traces the background of her mother, and researches the facts behind her mother's deportation to Siberia in World War II with 2 million other Poles.

She was subjected to brutal Siberian atrocities. Most refugees, fleeing oppression, died on their journey, but Helen survived miraculously. Helen finally found safety in a camp in Northern Rhodesia after travelling across Uzbekistan and Iran. While in the camp she fell pregnant to an Italian prisoner of war, and Sophia was born.

Technically, the film is very impressive. It combines two inter-weaving narrative strains with archival footage in an effective and emotionally uplifting way. But above all, it is a film made out of affection and the need to understand.

- Peter Sheehan, ACOFB

Documentary by Sophia Turkiewicz. Rated PG (Mild themes). 73 min.

Once My Mother

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