ONCE MY MOTHER
WINNER! United Nations Association of Australia Media Award (TV Documentary category), October 2015.
Abandoned in an Adelaide orphanage at the age of seven, Sophia feels betrayed by her mother, Helen. In early adulthood, Sophia still feels angry and resentful. Her mother is now married with two more children. Sophia rejects her new family and refuses contact with her mother.
In her twenties, Sophia is now a filmmaker living in far away Sydney, embracing her independence but deep down, blaming her mother when things go wrong in her life. Yet Sophia finds herself drawn back to her mother’s life, using Helen’s stories as inspiration for her films but disguising them as fiction.
Thirty years on, Helen has dementia. Sophia starts to question their deeply troubled relationship. She digs out an unfinished documentary film about Helen that she’d started as a film student years before and finds herself compelled to finish it.
Returning to her mother’s former homeland of Eastern Poland in what is now Ukraine, Sophia begins to trace her mother’s traumatic childhood. Orphaned as a young girl, Helen grows up in a rural Polish village. As an adolescent, she’s illiterate and homeless, somehow surviving on the streets.
As Sophia re-examines her mother’s life, she discovers the historical truth behind Helen’s deportation to a Siberian gulag. Helen was one of almost two million Poles who were incarcerated in Russian gulags during World War Two. The truth behind this little known episode of history reveals a dark story of betrayal involving Stalin and the Allies.
Miraculously given their freedom, Helen is part of a vast exodus of Poles who travel from Russia with no food or organised transport. Over months, they trek thousands of miles to Uzbekistan and eventually, freedom in Persia. Most of the Poles perish on this treacherous journey. Helen is one of the few survivors and she’s sent to a Polish refugee camp in Lusaka, Africa. Here she meets Valdiero, the love of her life, an Italian prisonerof-war who becomes Sophia’s father.
Finally, a decade after leaving Poland, Helen and her baby daughter arrive in Australia as refugees. Not long afterwards, she abandons Sophia in an orphanage.
With growing insight, Sophia starts to re-assess the troubled relationship with her mother. But as Helen slips out of reach, Sophia must confront her own demons. Did she ever truly know this woman who became her mother? Does she have it in her heart to forgive her? And is it too late?
DVD EXTRAS: Interviews with the director and producer enhance the main content and expand on the production story and the political and historical background.
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