On a recent flight to Philadelphia, I sat next to a woman who was on her way back to Europe after having shown her documentary at a film festival in Ann Arbor. She explained that the idea for this film had been germinating for a long time and she finally decided to make the film—whether anyone ever saw it or not, or whether anyone liked it or not. She needed to make this documentary for herself.
She told me that her film is about the process of developing photos, what we see and how images emerge and change through the chemical development process. One of the images in the film is of her mother’s hands. I asked if her mother had seen the film. Yes, she had, and she liked it. She also told her daughter that she was proud of her.
My writer’s mind immediately went to her mother’s reaction to the film. I wondered if her mother had insights about how she saw her daughter before and after watching the film and if her image of her daughter had changed because of the film. I wondered if the film was a metaphor for her daughter emerging through her work and if the film was a catalyst for her mother to openly express her pride. I wished I could talk with her mother to hear first-hand how the film impacted her.
The mother-daughter relationship can have all kinds of complexities and complications, and I am always grateful for the opportunity to hear a mother’s reflections on her daughter and their relationship. I remember being at an Al-Anon meeting where a women expressed her regret at not standing up for her daughter; she told us, but could not bring herself to tell her daughter. How happy I was to hear this mother’s confession—and how sad to know that her daughter had not heard it.
I wanted to speak with this woman and encourage her to talk to her daughter. I wanted to tell her that her daughter would be grateful to hear her mother’s confession and know her regrets. But, of course, I did not tell her that, because I did not know how her daughter would react. I could only insert myself into her story and envision how I would react. And even that was supposition since she was not my mother and this was not my relationship.
The woman on the plane had won an award for her documentary, and I was happy for her success. I was even happier that her film was an occasion for her mother to tell her that she was proud of her—what a great gift.