Auntie (2013)
Directed by Lisa Harewood.
Auntie was selected by the Commonwealth Foundation for its inaugural short film development program. Screened during Black History Month, October 2016.
Review Tracey Francis

Lisa Harewood talking about Auntie. (Black History Month 2016)

As part of Black History Month 2016 women in film screened Auntie by Lisa Harewood with a Q&A. The short film Auntie, set in Barbadosis part of Lisa’s wider Commonwealth Foundation project Barrel Stories. The short film focuses on a middle-aged seamstress just known as Auntie and Kera her niece at the dreaded moment when being separated will soon be a reality. Kera is a barrel child and her time has come to go and be with her mother.

A barrel child is a phrase coined by Dr. Claudette Crawford-Brown to describe children that were ‘left behind’ by their parents who went abroad for economic reasons. The parents would send barrels with food, clothing and goods in return for caring for their child. Lisa’s project aims to:

‘…  record and share the stories of Caribbean people affected when migrant parents leave they children behind in their home countries in the care of others. We want to start a conversation about the effects of this common but rarely discussed situation on parents, on children and on caregivers.’  (http://barrelstories.org/about-the-project/)’

The teenager Kera has been in Auntie’s life a long time and they have a strong bond. The film starts with Auntie and Kera on the beach and she points across the ocean and says, ‘Look can you see England, can you see your mummy?’ Mummy and England are just subjective concepts for Kera. However, the barrel arrives with goodies but this time there is also a one-way ticket to London for Kera. In the moment of discovery Auntie hides the ticket until she can actually think what to do in this stale mate situation. Through rumours and emails between Kera’s mum in England and her friend’s parents, she realises that Auntie is hiding the truth from her about the ticket. Once Kera confronts her Auntie, she has to relent and allow her to go. Lisa’s chooses a simplistic style of filming to emphasise the basic family life the Kera’s mum has left behind, but the viewer can feel it is rich in love and familiarity of space and culture. The abandoned and up-cycled barrels in the background are obvious metaphors of abandonment and a reference to silent histories, but they merge into the background of daily life.

When Kera packs to go very little is said but a vast amount is communicated non-verbally from both. Lisa manages to capture Auntie’s sorrow and Kera’s excitement with very little dialogue. From minimal gestures of the placing of clothes in a suitcase to the removal of photographs from the wall are heart-breaking. The viewer experiences both the pain and joy of Auntie and Kera.

Auntie screening, 2016

The screening of ‘Auntie’ at The Green, Black History Month 2016

The film ends with Auntie on the sun drenched beach that introduced the film, with a voice over of Kera’s first letter from England where she is joyously talking about going to Brighton and the cold weather.

Auntie is a short film that addresses a silent problem that needs exploring further. Listening to the audios on the Barrel Stories website gives an insight into choices made by parents and the impact on the caregivers. It is not all negative but more complex.

To find out more about the Barrel Project click here: barrelstories.org

Women in Film Rating
Bechdel Test: Passes with flying colours – all female cast including the mother whom we do not see.

Feminist stars: 4/5 . This film raises the issue around maternal abandonment and the relationship between an aunt, niece and her mother. This type of grouping is rarely seen on screen.

Watch Auntie:


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