“Who’s taking care of the kids?” Or, what not to ask a mother at a film festival
By Tara Karajica
It has taken me three and a half weeks after being commissioned to write this article. Why, you may ask? Because I am a mother of two – one of whom is an eight-and-a-half-month-old baby – as well as a film critic/journalist and a programmer. Life is hectic. Children get sick all the time. Laundry is drying everywhere. I write wherever I can, whenever I can. I watch films wherever I can, whenever I can. It is not important where or when. It is important to deliver: to deliver as a parent; to deliver as a film critic/journalist; as a film programmer; as a human being. Balance is what’s important. A support system is important. For some, unfortunately, it is a luxury, and it shouldn’t be. I am aware of my privileged position as a mother, as a film critic/journalist, as a programmer. And I am grateful. But it is hard. It is hard because as a freelancer, these are all unstable jobs. It is hard because it has meant that I had to give up my full maternity leave twice. In fact, once you’re pregnant on the festival circuit, after you’ve been congratulated numerous times (some people may have even been genuinely happy for you), you are immediately put into a box and you are not expected to be back for a while, or ever. I wasn’t going to let that happen. I wasn’t going to let people – some I didn’t even know – put me in a box. I wasn’t going to let the career I had spent years building wither. And, most importantly, I wasn’t going to let my children see me give up. I wasn’t going to let my daughter see me give up. What was I going to teach them? To adapt to change. To embrace change. To embrace all the challenges and all the obstacles that may emerge. To not give up. Cry if you must, but don’t ever give up.
So, I found a way. It may seem a messy way to some, but it’s my way, and for now it is working. I am not someone who, in the long run, can or will be fulfilled by only taking care of my descendants. It just isn’t me (though maternity leave times two would’ve been nice). But I have decided, with the immense help of my support system (my husband and our families) to take care of my children by taking care of myself – and that means to keep working and attending film festivals. That is how I take care of myself. Guilt is always there. Always. And, of course, there’s the perpetual conundrum of the relativity of time when you’re a working mother. And, the ever so cruel, boring, incriminating, and judgmental, “How do you do it?” or, “Who’s taking care of the kids?” or, “Oh! Really? You’re very busy!” or, my personal favourite, “Do you have time for that?” My self-preserving, fight-or-flight first instinct response – which, so far, has always remained entirely in my head – is “That’s none of your business,” but instead I smile and answer. But my message to these “concerned” individuals is: if you really “care” whether I have time, how I do it, who is with my kids, or whether I am busy, why not ask me: “How are you?” or “Are you sure you’re OK watching this film about an unhappy or abandoned or abused child, or this film about miscarriage, or this film about childbirth, etc.?” or simply draw on your inner humanity and say: “Have a cup of coffee. Take a break. Relax.” Acknowledge the physicality of it all; the uncertainty of it all. Acknowledge us mothers for what we really are: human beings whose bodies have changed, whose minds have become oversaturated, whose priorities have become blurred, whose worldviews have shifted; human beings who are tired, overworked and under pressure. We can do everything, but we don’t have to.
A dismantling of the patriarchal way of thinking is very much needed. For instance, film festivals could be of great help. They could set up childcare on the premises (there are some great examples for this and steps in the right direction: https://filmmakermagazine.com/114953-adventures-in-festival-babysitting-the-need-for-day-care-at-film-festivals/#.Y-ZUNezMI-S), so that the eternal question of who’s looking after the children can be, if not entirely avoided, then rephrased or rethought. Freelancing should be restructured for working mothers. Mothercare should be instituted at festivals. This is as important a conversation as mental health in the film industry, and these two issues are very much intertwined. I am well aware that funds and infrastructures are needed for such an endeavour – but women and mothers are needed on the festival circuit. It cannot and should not only ever be strictly “business as usual” or “the show/life must go on”. Anyone who thinks otherwise should ask themselves, at what cost is this status quo being maintained? It’s a vicious circle that needs to be broken. So, let’s break it together. Let’s care for each other better so that we can care for cinema better. Let’s take care of working mothers on the festival circuit. Life is not glamorous for many of us on the circuit, it’s messy. Nobody is perfect. We are human. We need care – and this is personal.
Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in Indiewire, Screen International, Variety, Little White Lies and Film New Europe, among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, Close-up and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded Yellow Bread, a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched Fade to Her, a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.