With documentaries, your film is at the mercy of what how real life unfolded in front of your camera. "Motherland" was somewhat shortchanged. It feels bad to knock it, given its subject matter, but it lacks the emotional buildup and, thus, eventual release that one expects.
Jennifer Steinman's film introduces us to five women who have lost a child (and one young woman who has lost a brother). Half of the tragedies were accidents; two were murders; and one, a suicide. None of the ladies are anywhere near being "over" their trauma, but some seem stuck in semi-shock.
The half-dozen women " strangers to one another, but bound by this unfortunate commonality " go to South Africa to help children in a particularly impoverished village, one in which HIV/AIDS is rampant. The kids there generally eat once a day, and many lose parents to the disease. Early on, one of our women picks up one child after another, and doles out long, drawn-out hugs; she's moved to tears, and so are we.
Strangely, that's the emotional climax, and we just got started. You'll feel for each woman as she opens her heart and shares her story, but the film remains at an arm's distance. It's not bad, but for all its effort in going halfway around the world, the journey is oddly inert.
While "Motherland" plays in limited release starting Aug. 26, Oklahomans will be able to view it online.