Local Filmmaking: Cafe Sisters’ Mother Love

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BY DEANNA MASCLE

As a woman-operated film and video production company, Cafe Sisters Production seems to naturally gravitate toward issues that are important to women. The company’s fourth project since 1990, Mother Love will be no different. This time they’re looking at the special bond that exists between mothers and daughters.

When they began fundraising for the project a year ago, Eren McGinnis and Christine Fugate were initially interested in filming a documentary exploring the way that women support each other. “The way that women help other women is the very fundamental of feminism,” Fugate said.

However, as they began their research for the project, they realized that this support network is primarily based upon families, and that the mother-daughter relationship is the center of it all. “The bond between mother and daughter is so complex it influences a woman her entire life,” Fugate said.

She said that this shaping of an idea is to be expected when planning a documentary. “When you plan a documentary, you start with a big idea and then hone in on exactly what you’re trying to do,” she said.

A series of questions will shape the program: What do daughters learn from their mothers about love, success, and happiness? Do mothers raise their daughters to be like themselves? What kinds of conscious decisions does a daughter make to differentiate herself from her mother?

“The program will also reveal the undeniable impact that mothers have on nearly every aspect of a daughter’s life,” McGinnis said, “From how a woman perceives herself to how she chooses her relationships, her mother’s influence will shape her into a woman. Whether it is expressed in a positive or negative manner, a daughter is, in part, always a reflection of her mother.”

Fugate and McGinnis intend the documentary to explore the compassion, humor and stories of four different families. In each mother-daughter relationship, the mother has created a model for her daughters to follow. What the daughters do with this childhood imprint is up to their own livelihood, dreams, and personality.

“They all had good relationships, this is essentially a positive film,” McGinnis said. “But each relationship is very different.” They interviewed the mothers and daughters both separately and together, but the production team said it was interesting that all the pairs said things that they had never said to each other before. “They all said these interviews really opened up their relationship,” McGinnis said.

McGinnis and Fugate hope to air the 58-minute documentary Mother Love on Mother’s Day in 1995 on a public broadcasting station.

They recently spent nine days shooting footage for the documentary in Pikeville, Kentucky. “It was very intense and very exciting,” McGinnis said. “It was a great expereience. The people of Pikeville were wonderful.”

Pikeville is a small community nestled in the middle of the Appalachian mountains, next to the borders of Virginia and West Virginia. This coal-mining capital, once known for having more Cadillacs per capita than any other city in the United States, is a unique community. Its physical isolation has created a tight sense of community and made the families of Pikeville very close-knit. When asked what is most important to them, the people interviewed by Cafe Sisters Productions replied family, education, and the church.

McGinnis and Fugate feel that without the distractions and pressures of living in a  large urban environment, the interplay of familial relationships are more intensely expressed. “Pikeville is the ideal setting to examine mother-daughter bonds,” McGinnis said.

“It is a city of contrasts,” Fugate added. “It is geographically isolated, yet very cosmopolitan. It has always fascinated me.”

They discovered through their interviews that each of the four families was touched in some way by coal, not surprising in this community, and so they also filmed a sequence in a local mine.

Each of the four mother-daughter relationships they explore in the documentary is unique. One family is a single-parent household in which the unmarried mother raises her daughter alone. The mother has sttruggled to get off welfare and become self-sufficient; she is determined that her daughter will never have to face that same fight or make the same mistakes she made.

Another mother is raising her three daughters in a two-parent household and has dedicated herself ot the art of homemaking, teaching her daughters to cook, quilt, and crochet; but one of the daughters has already decided at the age of 14 that she wants to move away to pursue a singing career. If she does so, she will be the first member of the family to leave Pikeville.

A third mother, the first female lawyer in Pikeville, is raising her daughter in a single-parent household to be aware of the opportunities women have in the career world.

Finally, the fourth mother-daughter relationship depicted explores an older daughter who rebelled and left Pikeville, only to return and live next door to her mother.

“We focused on so many teenage daughters because we think that is the most difficult time in a mother-daughter relationship,” McGinnis said. “This is when daughters are usually trying to find their own identity.”

Both McGinnis and Fugate drew upon their own experience as daughters McGinnish feels it has changed the way she looks at her own daughter.

“We did a lot of psychological research into the relationship before we even began filming,” Fugute said. “We found that mothers in some way try to create doubles.” Simone de Beauvoir says “In her daughter, the mother does not hail a member of the superior caste; in her she sees a double.”

The mother’s influence is shown in other ways as well. They said in many cases what were the mother’s regrets become the daughter’s goals. “There is a symbiosis between mothers and daughters that is never really broken until the mother dies,” McGinnis said. “We create our own identity in relation to our mothers.”

“It may be the most important relationship a woman has; it may be even more important than a woman’s relationship to her husband,” Fugate said.

The documentary itself will not just be a series of interviews with mothers and daughters. Fugate and McGinnis will add the Cafe Sisters touch by adding a fantasy sequence to symbolize what a daughter goes through as she grows up. They filmed the final sequence in Lexington, using many of McGinniss’s friends and neighbors as actors.

Another unique feature of a Cafe Sisters documentary is filming on HI-8 rather than Betacam, like most documentaries. “I like what it does to the color, it is not as flat,” Fugate said. “We later transfer it to Betacam to preserve it.”

Fugate and McGinnis hope to make Mother Love the pilot for a series of documentaries involving the mother-daughter relationships set in locations throughout the world from Bombay to London. However, more filming and a great deal of editing lie ahead. For now, the team is trying to gather more funds for the effort.

 



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