×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Family Portrait in Black and White

Engaging docu considers the much-extended household of Olga Nenya, a middle-aged Ukrainian woman who's foster mother to 17 children.

With:
With: Olga Nenya, Kiril, Roman, Sashka, Sylvia, Anya, Andrey, Maxim, Sergey, Egor.

Engaging docu “Family Portrait in Black and White” considers the much-extended household of Olga Nenya, a middle-aged Ukrainian woman who’s foster mother to 17 children, many mixed-race. But while the pic initially appears an inspirational portrait of one small domestic stand against pervasive racism, the real drama of Julia Ivanova’s feature lies in the kids’ dawning perception that their well-intentioned but stubbornly old-fashioned benefactress may be unable or unwilling to make the right decisions for their future. Pic should snap up broadcast deals along the fest route, with niche theatrical sales possible in markets with emigre enclaves from former Soviet territories.

A figure who wouldn’t be out of place in a 1930s USSR agricultural propaganda film, Nenya is proudly unconcerned about the derogatory attitudes a seeming majority of her fellow countrymen feel toward blacks. We hear skinheads offer such wisdoms as, “If a white and a subhuman produce an offspring, the resulting creature can only be an idiot.” Similar sentiments are heard from her next-door neighbor — who moments later is seen stumbling around in the perpetual drunken stupor that’s cost him custody of his own child.

Some of Nenya’s charges are half-African or half-Middle Eastern, and most know little about their biological parents, who presumably abandoned them because of the social stigma. All consider her their true mother, and are grateful for all she’s done for them. Still, her constant nagging to feed the goats or tend the vegetable garden is just about the only note she can play: When the children are old enough to forge lives of their own, her limited worldview proves a real problem.

Nenya refuses to let any of them be adopted elsewhere (many have long visited European host families in the summer through a post-Chernobyl exchange program), even when their prospects would greatly improve as a result. She indulges disabled, dropout eldest Egor — whom the others consider a bully and delinquent — while taking a hard line with her bright younger ones’ pleas to take advantage of educational or training opportunities that have been offered. For instance, in order to realize his potential, musically inclined, clearly quite brilliant 16-year-old Kiril must finally rebel — an action that brings cruel retaliation from “Mama.”

Nenya is no monster, but simply an uneducated relic of another era. Having chosen a virtuous but unpopular path (which drove her husband away long ago), she may simply be protecting herself from loneliness in keeping her wards close when they’d often be better off flying free.

Well-crafted, nicely scored pic twice jumps a year ahead to update protags’ progress. Most viewers would be delighted if Ivanova revisited them all in another few years for a follow-up feature.

Family Portrait in Black and White

Canada

Production: An Interfilm Prods. presentation in association with Knowledge and EQHD. (International sales: Film Sales Co., New York.) Produced by Boris Ivanov. Executive producers, Sally Jo Fifer, Julia Ivanova. Directed, written, edited by Julia Ivanova.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Ivanova, Stanislav Shakhov; music, Boris Sichon; sound, Jamie Mahaffey. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, Jan. 18, 2011. (In Sundance Film Festival -- World Cinema, competing.) Running time: 106 MIN.

Cast: With: Olga Nenya, Kiril, Roman, Sashka, Sylvia, Anya, Andrey, Maxim, Sergey, Egor.

More Scene

  • Katie HolmesAT&T Presents: Untold Stories Luncheon

    Katie Holmes, Kal Penn Help Decide Winner of $1 Million Filmmaker Grant

    Tribeca Film Festival and AT&T gave one young filmmaker a million and one reasons to rejoice at the “Untold Stories” third annual competition. After a nerve-wracking 10-minute long pitch in front of over 850,000 live stream audience members and a panel consisting of celebrities and industry leaders, filmmaker Kate Tsang was awarded $1 million Monday [...]

  • Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow'Hillary and Clinton'

    Why John Lithgow Worried About Starring in Broadway's 'Hillary and Clinton'

    When Lucas Hnath first conceived of “Hillary and Clinton” in 2008, he was writing for and about a very different America. Now, a total reimagining of the show has made its way to Broadway with Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in the titular roles. At the opening on Thursday night, the cast and creatives talked [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Took 12 Years to Get to Broadway, but It's More Relevant Than Ever

    When “Hadestown” was first staged as a tiny, DIY theater project in Vermont, those involved could never have predicted that it was the start of a 12-year journey to Broadway — or how painfully relevant it would be when it arrived. At Wednesday night’s opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre, the cast and creatives discussed [...]

  • Mick Jagger

    Mick Jagger Makes First Post-Surgery Appearance at Rolling Stones Ballet Premiere

    Rock legend Mick Jagger made his first public appearance post-heart surgery on Thursday night to catch a glimpse of the world premiere of the Rolling Stones ballet “Porte Rouge.” “I hope you are going to enjoy this wonderful new ballet, and, of course, the music,” the frontman declared in a pre-recorded message to the audience [...]

  • Adam Driver appears at the curtain

    Adam Driver on Starring in 'Burn This' for a Second Time

    The Hudson Theatre’s new production of “Burn This” marks its first Broadway revival since it premiered on the Great White Way in 1987, but Adam Driver is no stranger to the work. He starred as Pale in a Juilliard production of the Lanford Wilson drama when he was still a student — and only now, [...]

  • PMC Event Rome

    Film, Fashion, Formula E Mix at Rome E-Prix Bash

    Film, fashion and Formula E auto-racing fused during a dinner and celebration of the Rome E-Prix on Thursday at the Palazzo Dama by the Piazza del Popolo in the heart of the Eternal City.  Guests mingled and sipped cocktails as hors d’oeuvres were passed around in a former home of the Italian nobility with conversation [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content