Hot Docs 2011: ‘Mothers of Bedford’

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Mothers of Bedford

Directed by Jenifer McShane

2011, USA, 93 mins.

The title Mothers of Bedford belies the emotional expanse covered by the film. Though it is indeed mothers who are locked up in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, this film is just as much about their children and their own mothers outside of Bedford. All are brought together at the Bedford Children’s Centre, a unique program aiding rehabilitation through building better parents.  This film is also a piece of social advocacy. Director Jenifer McShane – along with founder of the Bedford Children’s Centre, Sister Elaine Roulet, and Bobby Blanchard, an advocate at the centre – contend that the Children’s Centre improves the lives of the families who participate and helps rehabilitate the prisoners.

Five Women and a Baby

This film makes its point by following the lives of five women imprisoned at Bedford (and, obviously, Sister Elaine Roulet and Bobby Blanchard). A few facts and figures make their way onto the screen, but, for the most part, we are informed by the experiences of the prisoners, their children (including an infant, Emma, living with her mother in Bedford), and their own parents. Because McShane shot over a period of years, what we see is no mere snapshot. It is a true journey, albeit one confined. Children get older before us, and candidly share their experience with us. The experience is not a counterfeit wholesome one, though. The five women are honest about their mistakes, their struggles, and their crimes.

Beyond Bedford?

While Mothers of Bedford succeeds as an honest (as opposed to the reality-TV-in-prison shtick cable is suffering) approach to the rationale and collateral cost involved in the US justice system, the film falters somewhat as it tries to move beyond Bedford. Lack of children’s centres in other women’s prisons is briefly touched upon, but the consequences of this deficiency are either assumed or ignored. The personal accounts of the inmates at Bedford are valuable and lend emotional weight to the issue, but this is the only way McShane establishes the Children Centre’s value.

During the Q&A, Bobby Blanchard remarked that part of the problem lay in the fact that the US government does not keep long-term statistics on recidivism – but I would have preferred to hear that from the film. That said, what Mothers of Bedford lacks in quantitative evidence, it makes up for in emotional and philosophical weight. For everyone disappointed in the status quo, Mothers of Bedford presents an alternative.

–       Dave Robson

Hot Docs runs from April 28th through May 8th.

Visit the official website for the festival.





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