FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE (Julia Ivanova, 2011)
AMC Empire 25
234 West 42nd St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Opens Friday, July 13
“What difference does it make — black, white, yellow? They are just kids,” says Olga Nenya in the intriguing documentary Family Portrait in Black and White. Evoking the classic nursery rhyme about an old woman who lives in a shoe, Nenya runs a foster home in the Ukraine suburb of Sumy, where she takes care of as many as twenty-seven children (including four of her own), most of whom are mixed-race boys and girls abandoned by their parents, primarily local women and African men who were studying in Eastern Europe. Because of their heritage, the children are despised by neighbors, the growing, violent neo-Nazi movement, and the government, which gives Nenya very little money but then sends inspectors who decry the living conditions in her house. Canadian filmmaker Julia Ivanova, who wrote, directed, and edited the eighty-five-minute documentary in addition to serving as cinematographer, follows the kids as they do their daily chores, go to school, spend the summer with families in Italy, and look forward to the day when they are old enough to go out on their own, either to be legally adopted or to attend university. For as much as most of them love and respect Nenya, she can be a tough, dominating taskmaster with old-fashioned values who selfishly holds on to her flock even when better opportunities are out there for some of her children. A product of Stalinism, Nenya can be dictatorial, yet she clearly loves and cares deeply about her children; as Ivanova focuses in on Kiril, Roman, Anya, and Andrey, each of whom has serious issues about the way they are being raised, the individual relationships become more and more tense. A multiple-award-winning international festival favorite, Family Portrait in Black and White is a compelling look at racism, value systems, and just what family means in today’s ever-changing society.