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Friday, May 11, 2012

SIFF Sighting: FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE (Ukraine, Documentary)

Olga is a good soul—she sees the injustice of how minorities are treated in her country (Ukraine) and wants to do her part to combat the hate. She does this by taking in as many biracial orphans as her home will allow. At the time this documentary was made, she had 17 foster children.

As in any family there are conflicts and kids that don't want to do their chores and siblings that feel left out. Olga is old-fashioned in her beliefs that children should do their work, get an education and then start a life of their own right there in the homeland, but a few of her kids have their own ideas.

Due to the Chernobyl disaster, many orphans get assistance, which enables them to spend summer months with host families in places like France and Italy. The children love this vacation from their poverty-stricken home and many hope to be adopted by their summer hosts. When a few actually get that chance, Olga does everything in her power to block it, even though the kids would clearly be better off in the other countries. Sure, she loves them, but her need to control them seems to outweigh her rational thinking.

This isn't an easy film to watch.

The director admittedly began making the film to spotlight the horrible racism in the country, so there are scenes that show Neo-Nazi activity and interviews. The African biological father of one of the kids Olga is raising discusses how dangerous it's becoming simply to be black in the Ukraine.

It's nauseating that in this day and age, there are still places populated with a majority of hate.

In spite of that, there are also very touching scenes with the kids speaking on camera of their love for Olga and vice-versa. If nothing else, she provides a real family unit to children who may not otherwise have had one.

Family Portrait in Black and White often reminded me of another documentary, My Flesh and Blood, which has a similar story, but takes place in the U.S.

And both beg the questions: What makes these 'saintly' women hoard children? Are their motives altruistic or simply compulsive... or both?

This film doesn't answer that question, but reminds us that society has a long way to go by way of acceptance.

FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE will screen later this month at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival. For tickets, visit the SIFF website.

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