________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 9. . . .October 30, 2009.


Family Motel.

Helene Klodawsky (Director). Ina Fichman (Instinct Films Producer). Ravida Din (NFB Producer). Sally Bochner & Ravida Din (NFB Executive Producers). Ina Fichman (Instinct Films Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2007.
88 min., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9107 131.

Subject Headings:
Single mothers-Canada-Ethiopian conditions.
Somalis-Canada-Somali conditions 21st century.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Cathy Vincent-Linderoos.




This documentary is a piece of 'creative non-fiction' which represents the struggles of a Somali family as they suddenly become homeless one summer. Due to the need for some degree of personal privacy, the names and details are not all true to life.

     We first meet Ayan and her two daughters as they are living in urban Canada -- just prior to being evicted from their apartment for being behind with the rent. Despite the invitation to live with another Somali family, they were not able to stay long as guests of their friends due to the strict occupancy rules of that family's landlord. They learn they must live in a small, cramped motel room on the city's outskirts, courtesy of their city government's welfare department.

     We see that the mother, a high-school teacher in her homeland, cleans an office building for a living and wants to get both daughters' teeth fixed. The dentist says he will not proceed with work on the second daughter because the mother is still in arrears with him over the elder daughter's braces. Meanwhile, the mother gets frequent calls from her husband who is still residing in Somalia with their two boys. He is repeatedly pleading with his wife to continue to send more money for them. The reality of the eviction makes tasks like getting enough food, preparing meals, working, child-care and safety the over-arching issues of the day.

     Ayan speaks English fluently but relies upon her elder daughter to read English. The girls, 16-year-old Nasrah and 13-year-old Leila, are experiencing Canadian life and so like others their age, they want to stay in close touch with their school friends by phone. This is nearly impossible when they reside in the motel where there is no telephone and must plan to attend a nearby school. Nasrah seems to resent the constant need to stay with her younger sister.

     Nasrah attracts the attention of a handsome young man who resides in the same motel. He is apparently a pimp and gives every indication of preparing to recruit the unwitting Nasrah for prostitution. Luckily, Ayan discovers the cell phone he has given her daughter which disturbs her greatly; she becomes all the more determined to find proper rental accommodation near their old school. The area in which she seeks to live has very high rents for tiny units. We do not see that goal accomplished, but we know that the mother has kept her cleaning job and also her strong ties within the Somalian community.

     The film shows a hard-working mother whose income is limited and how her attempts to send money home have not helped her precarious situation with respect to her living arrangements. We meet a wide range of social-workers, child-protection officers, homeless individuals, Somalis and others in the film. We are left with a clear portrayal of the numerous difficulties that can confront (female) immigrants to Canada raising children on their own.

     Challenge and Change in Society as well as Families and Individuals in a Diverse Society are two high-school subjects where this DVD would be very appropriate to screen. Students might be then be challenged by their teachers to confront their own biases with regard to homelessness and stereotypes.


Cathy Vincent-Linderoos is a retired teacher living in London, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.