Motherland (NR)

Documentary 94 min. September 8, 2017
By Kristen Yoonsoo Kim
Motherland opens with a 24-year-old woman already on her fifth pregnancy -- just one of many such cases that director Ramona S. Diaz reveals in the vérité-style documentary, which recalls the observational techniques and insights of the films of Frederick Wiseman. Diaz reveals life at the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila, Philippines, known as the world's busiest maternity ward (averaging 60 deliveries a day, and sometimes as many as 100).

The hospital looks something like an overcrowded storage space, with many bodies shoved into small rooms and sometimes two nursing mothers to a single bed. Because of a lack of equipment, mothers (and visiting fathers) get turned into human incubators, with tube-like garments fashioned to secure babies born prematurely to their warm bodies. But the Philippines can reach broiling temperatures, and as these women fan themselves with cardboard, viewers can feel the overpopulated country's tropical climate.

Diaz's cinematographers (Nadia Hallgren and Clarissa De Los Reyes) move around the hospital beds with such ease that no patient or professional's candid moment seems to go unnoticed. Though there's always a sense of chaos, with women giving birth and breastfeeding at every turn, Diaz never loses sight of the truth that these are all individuals, not just statistics. While mothers wait wearily for their families to show up, nurses urge them to get IUDs, but many of the patients resist. (The majority of the population's being Catholic may explain the pushback against birth control.) But with so many raising children in impoverished circumstances, it's an increasingly necessary conversation. Motherland is one place to start it.
Ramona S. Diaz PBS Films

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