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Sons & Mothers: a love letter

Arts & Culture

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“Seven men wanted to send a love letter to their mothers,” says the trailer for the Sons & Mothers documentary. “But only six could.”

The words give a hint of the poignancy and raw honesty of the film, which follows male members of No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability as they create the theatrical production of the same name.

Louise Pascale, producer of the documentary which premieres next week at the Adelaide Film Festival, says the actors put their hearts on the line to create the work.

“They opened themselves up and asked themselves complex questions,” she says.

“One can’t finish it – that’s the honesty and reality of it. It does make uncomfortable viewing.”

The idea for the documentary arose when film director Christopher Houghton attended a number of rehearsals by the No Strings Attached men’s ensemble and learned that writer and actor Alirio Zavarce wanted to make a piece of theatre with them about sons and mothers.

With the agreement of the men involved and their mothers, the film crew documented the creation of the play over 18 months. They observed the actors from the first rehearsal to the opening night at the 2012 Adelaide Fringe, where the show was a sell-out and won three Fringe awards.

 “I think they are honest relationships – whether they’re positive or negative, they are honest. It’s not all roses and sunshine.”

The film-making team tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, but Pascale says a great deal of trust was required on the part of the participants.

“For some of the men, their mothers aren’t around anymore; they have passed away,” Pascale says. “Even now it chokes me up to think about how hard it was for them to think about their mothers who aren’t here anymore.

“For Kym [Mackenzie], whose mother passed away some time ago, the memories of her were hard to recall … he really wanted to bring his mother to life in the show, but to watch him struggle with the memories of her was heartbreaking.”

Pascale says some of the issues raised would be common to many men, adding that the relationship between a mother and son is “complex for everyone”.

“I think they are honest relationships – whether they’re positive or negative, they are honest. It’s not all roses and sunshine.”

But there are moments of irreverence and wry humour. “My mother was a lesbian feminist radical separatist,” one of the men says. “She never explained to me why she divorced from my dad, but I guess it must have had something to do with being a lesbian feminist.”

Pascale says the biggest challenges for the film-makers came in the editing room.

“We had 130 hours of footage and we had to bring that down to 81 minutes.

“It was also about representation and how do you represent these men without being condescending and putting disability at the forefront.”

No Strings Attached artistic director PJ Rose says that while theatre is a transitory art form, the images captured by the film are lasting.

“The film Sons & Mothers gets inside the spirit of the performers in a way that defies the passage of time; it’s not a record of the play, it’s an intimate visit to the hearts of these sons and mothers.”

The filmmakers hope Mothers & Sons will help audiences see the world through the eyes of those participating. There will be a panel discussion about disability in the media after one of the Adelaide Film Festival screenings, and Pascale would like to see the documentary – which is accompanied by a study guide – shown in schools.

“We are very keen to use the film to open a discussion; whether we will change hearts and minds, I don’t know.”

Houghton hopes it will leave audiences “hungry, wishing they could hang out with the characters more. It’s how I felt every time I walked into their rehearsal room.”

The Adelaide Film Festival opens tomorrow night. Sons & Mothers will screen at the Regal Cinema on October 17 and 20, with a panel discussion involving Louise Pascale and Christopher Houghton following the screening on the 20th. It will also have a three-week session at the Track Cinema following the festival.

The theatre production Sons & Mothers, by No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability, will be re-staged at the Space Theatre from October 17-26.

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