Battelle offers fascinating documentary with 'Family Portrait in Black and White'

atomictown.comSeptember 6, 2012 

The Battelle Film Club offers attendees of Friday evening's viewing of Family Portrait in Black and White a unique opportunity to do a Q&A with the film's director, Julia Ivanova.

It's one I wish I could attend because her film leaves you with many questions -- good questions from a fascinating documentary.

The Ukraine is almost 100 percent Caucasian. Being black -- or of any color other than white -- is more than just difficult. With a burgeoning white supremacist population, being of a person of color is downright scary. Double or triple that if you're a child or a woman.

Olga Nenya is a saint. The documentary Family Portrait in Black and White shows how the Caucasian Ukrainian woman has taken in 16 black orphans. They all call her Mom. Life isn't easy for Nenya or the kids, but the kids -- in a wide range of ages -- seem happy and they love her. Even their extreme poverty beats an orphanage.

As her film unfolds, Ivanova starts to wonder if Olga is the saint you think she is. So do you.

Ivanova's documentary is a brilliant piece of work. It is a deep, thought-provoking, question-generating film that you will find as heartbreaking as it is heartwarming. There are places that will make you scratch your head about the woman. One of her adoptees who has to stay in a special school for special needs children, cries when Nenya visits and then has to leave. You're torn in two, but she's a stone.

Other children are adoptable, and people in other countries who can offer them a bright future want to adopt them. She says no. Another child is a soccer star in the making. His coach wants him to go to a special soccer camp. Nenya won't let him.

Her excuses are crap. You know the reason. It's money. Less kids. Less money.

At the same time, Nenya is old-school. Raised in a Communist society, Nenya's view of life is based in a bygone era. And as old-school, Nenya is often a closed-book, unwilling to truthfully say why she does what she does. But do know this -- no one takes on that kind of headache without compassion and love for the children.

So many questions. And no answers. A hint or two, but there's no probing. No discussion. Nothing. It's the flaw in Family Portrait in Black and White and it's also the film's strength. To understand why I make that statement, you must see the movie.

I envy those of you who get to spend some time with Ivanova and who get to ask her questions about Nenya that her film does not answer. I highly recommend this one. The film has been in a few art houses around the country, but nowhere else. The Battelle Film Club pulled off a major coup in getting this one.

Mr. Movie rating: 5 stars

Director: Julia Ivanova

Not rated. Probably PG-13. It plays 8 p.m. at Friday, Sept. 7 only at the Battelle Auditorium.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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