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by Lela Scott MacNeil
June 18th, 2010

As a part of tonight’s “New York Non-Fiction” show, Rooftop Films will be screening A Harlem Mother, directed by Ivana Todorovic. A Harlem Mother is a powerful film about the strength of the mother of a murdered son and how she channeled that strength into helping others who have suffered as she has. Footage of Jean, the mother, is intercut with footage shot by her son for a documentary that he created before his death. This serves to create a profound picture of the enduring sadness of a mother who has had to bury her son and the power that she drew from her tragedy.

Rooftop Films spoke with Ivana about Jean’s impossible strength and how we can all help Jean in her fight to end youth gun violence.

Rooftop Films: Give a brief description of your film for those who haven’t seen it.

Ivana Todorovic: A Harlem Mother is the story of a mother who turned her grief about her murdered son Latraun into a positive by fighting youth gun violence and supporting other parents who lost children through her organization “Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E.” in Harlem. This story is told by the mother, Jean, in her present life and by her son, Latraun, through footage from a documentary that he made in 1998.

RF: Rather than focusing directly on the victims of gun violence, your film focuses more on the family members left behind. What made you decide to approach the subject from this angle?

IT: Well, I met Jean, as a social activist and mother who fights youth gun violence, and was amazed by her strength and fight. So I just felt I must help this woman and the fight against youth gun violence by making a documentary film.  This was my third social documentary and I always focus on personal stories of the people I consider “heroes of society.” I met Jean at a meeting of the Frederick E. Samuel Community Democratic Club in Harlem. And I ended up in Harlem by accident on my first subway ride on the first day I came to New York city to study documentary film at the New School. So in life and film it’s magic who we meet!

RF: Is it correct to say that Jean continues to be a mother to her son even after his death?

IT: Yes it is correct, I think it’s correct for each parent who has lost their kid. Jean keeps her son alive by fighting for other childrens’ lives. In her home his photos are everywhere and you can feel his presence.

Also, her granddaughter (Latraun’s daughter) was her main support but unfortunately she was murdered one month ago by her stepfather when she was just 13. And Jean, this amazing woman, completely fell apart of course. But she picked herself up and still holds Harlem Mother’s meetings and supports other parents.

RF: Did you hesitate to include the footage of Jean at Latraun’s funeral?

IT: Yes I did. Jean gave me those tapes as well as Latraun’s film, which he made together with Peter Kinoy, from whom I got permission to use Latraun’s film. Jean wanted to tell her story in full and she wanted me to include the funeral. So we did and that’s one of many reasons why I admire Jean so much. The scene of the funeral is the culmination of the pain of the parent and it’s very important to be seen. Jean was very strong when she watched the film on the big screen at Maysles’ cinema and I was so afraid how she would hold it together but she held it well. This film is part of her fight against youth gun violence and you can see and feel the pain of the parent.

RF: Can you tell us a little more about Jean’s activist organization and her work? How can people help or get involved?

IT: Yes. Jean co-founded the “Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E.” organization with Jackie Rowe-Adams, a mother who lost two sons to gun violence. The two of them organize rallies against youth gun violence, do outreach with youth in Harlem, and organize support meetings and outreach to other parents and families who have just lost children.

The main problem for Jean’s organization is they don’t have space and money. So any donation would help them a lot. You can donate here.

Also, any press that could spread out their work is important.  Anyone who would like to get involved can write them and they will be happy to find a way for that person to help! Their contact information is info@harlemmotherssave.org.

The “Harlem mothers SAVE” web site is: www.hmsnyc.org

RF: Are you a full-time filmmaker? If not, what else are you up to?

IT: Yes, I’m a 24 hours a day filmmaker since I started to make documentaries and entered this magic world! But since I’m here in America basic life is much harder and I’ve had a lot of problems with my artist visa so I’m a struggler too! But I’m getting ready to start a new film in the desert near Palm Desert!

RF: Tell us about your next project.

IT: My next film is in the desert, waiting for me to find it! I’m going on Saturday to Palm Desert and will have meeting with Richard Milanovich who is the chairman of the Tribal Council of the Aqua Caliente Indian Reservation so let’s see from there!

RF: What excites you having your film screened at Rooftop?

IT: Oh I’m honored and excited!

Firstly, Jean will be with me presenting the film and this will be first time we have done it together. And I’m so proud and happy she has collected the strength to do it.

And secondly, Rooftop Films Festival was the first Film Festival I saw when I came to New York, in a park in Greenpoint! I saw great films and such energy!  So I wished one day for my film to be screened as part of the Rooftop Films Festival and here I am today.

Visit the Facebook page for A Harlem Mother here.

Visit the official website for A Harlem Mother here.

See my other films here.

And please spread the word about the youth gun violence problem as it’s huge!

See “A Harlem Mother” tonight at Rooftop Films “New York Non-Fiction” in the Lower East Side.

Tickets and more information here.

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One Response to “Filmmaker Interview: “A Harlem Mother””

  1. Charles Hall says:

    Was her son asasinated, or was he just in the wrong place at the wrong time?

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

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