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Not your typical grandmother: Babushka film

By Anthony Lauriello     5/16/11 7:00pm

Last year, when I first heard of Wiess sophomore Gabi Chennisi's intention to visit Kazakhstan to produce a film about babushkas (elderly women residing in former USSR states) I thought she was joking. In fact, despite her insistence, I remained incredulous until I saw the announcement that she had won the Brotzen Summer Travel Award and Parish Grant and was indeed going to the "old country" with her high school peer, Harvard sophomore ?Abigail Hook.

Several weeks ago, after almost a year of work, Chennisi and Hook debuted their finished documentary, Babushka, to a theater so packed, people stood in the aisles. Clocking in at around 45 minutes, the powerful movie captivated the audience and proved without a doubt the skill of its creators.

The film's shots, subtitles and editing are unfailingly professional; I would not have guessed that college sophomores created Babushka. However the movie is not flawless. Most noticeably, in certain parts the sound editing could be a little tighter, as the audience hears little snippets of conversation from the filmmakers in the background. This peccadillo doesn't distract much and some of it may have well been intentional. Furthermore, it is in the soundtrack that the young filmmakers have their masterstroke. The piano music played by one of the babushkas weaves throughout the film, giving a sense of continuity and adding to the overall ?pensive tone.

While the technical prowess of the film deserves praise, the ability of two very young women to make a film essentially about old age is what truly stands out.  The movie follows five old women, originally from Soviet states, as they tell their stories about life, loss and loneliness.  It is the last of these segments that makes the film poignant. These babushkas live alone, and many of them seem thrilled for a chance to tell their stories. In one of the most salient moments of the movie, a blind babushka named Masha lives in such isolation that news the Obama is now the American president puts her in a state of shock. In this age of connectedness, it seems incomprehensible that a person so out of touch with the world can exist. Many of us can't even go a day without checking our Facebook; a life with no sight, no news and few contacts ?seems impossible.

As the film ended and the lights turned on, I realized that the two students had truly succeeded by ?allowing the voices of these women to resonate with a wide audience. Trekking to a far off distant corner of the world and using simple, quality filmwork let these babushkas, the true stars of the film, shine. It makes for an amazing film, and I am sure we will be seeing more from these two young filmmakers.

The film will be available to download on Amazon.com in June.

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