About Face: The Story of Gwendellin Bradshaw is one of only three feature films playing at this year's Hearts and Minds Film Festival. It plays Saturday, April 10 at the Schwartz Center at 4 p.m. Directed by Mary Katzke who lives and works in Alaska, Katzke says the family of Gwendellin Bradshaw lived next door to her ever since Bradshaw was a baby. Unfortunately, it was as a baby that Bradshaw was nearly killed when her own mother threw her into a fire.
Bradshaw survived, but twenty-nine years passed without Bradshaw ever knowing or hearing her mother's side to this story. Her mother was put into a state psychiatric institution and was eventually released but the courts limited her contact with Bradshaw. The mother left Alaska and was never seen again.
This documentary follows the now 30-year-old Bradshaw as she attempts to find her mother and hear her side of what happened on that horrible day.
Katzke directed this feature for Affinity Films, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to produce "media with meaning" or films that work for social change in our society, not only in its home state of Alaska but also all across the country. Katzke said that this doc has been submitted to numerous film festivals and has been accepted in places in Canada, Greece, and even Korea.
Yet, the Hearts and Minds Film Festival is one of the only events in the United States to screen About Face and to agree with the mission of the movie as well as the mission of Affinity Films. Katze says she applauds the HMFF for recognizing domestically what's been widely accepted globally. It may be difficult for American audiences to embrace a story that features a young girl dealing with not only physical but also emotional scars, or else a film dealing with the real pain of children, but a film like this is necessary if people want to truly understand mental illness.
And yes, what's revealed is the mental illness suffered by Bradshaw's mother. What's even more shocking, if somewhat predictable, is the fact that Bradshaw is institutionalized in the same state psychiatric hospital as her mother decades prior. Bradshaw grew up with a mental illness that almost finished what her mother started, and, in order for Bradshaw to heal, she had to know where this mental illness came from. She had to find her mother.
Bradshaw asked Katzke to video document her search for her mother, as she went from Alaska to the midwest to New England. Bradshaw had accompanied Katzke on her film productions, growing up but now the camera was focused squarely on her and it was Bradshaw who was accompanying. Katzke says the documentary plays out like a fiction story, a mystery needing to be solved. In that way, it's very much like hybrid documentaries, such as Man on Wire, Waltz With Bashir or Paper Heart. Katzke says she enjoys hybrid documentaries because it enhances or underscores the storytelling.
Katzke and her crew following Bradshaw were like detectives themselves chasing after clues, taking them literally from end of the continent to the other, along the way, the harsh reality of mental illness is illuminated. Katzke hopes that the doc raises awareness about such illnesses and that through this understanding can be achieved.