Few years ago parents fled the Ceaușescu regime in Romania.
Teodora Ana Mihai spends several months in the life of one such family where the kids are being left behind because of economic migration, as hundreds of thousands of citizens leave the country annually to work abroad.
In Mihai’s new award-winning social chronicle film,Waiting for August we see in a new form of neo-realism the puber Georgiana Halmac who turns 15 in that winter. She lives with her six brothers and sisters in a social housing condo on the outskirts of Bacau, Romania. Their mother Liliana was forced to leave her family behind to go to Turin, Italy, to earn money. She won’t be back before summer. During their mother’s absence, Georgiana has been catapulted into the role of head of the family, responsible for her siblings. Her adolescence is cut brutally short.
Caught between puberty and responsibility, Georgiana moves ahead, improvising as she goes. Phone conversations with her mom are her only guidelines. Intimate scenes from the daily life of the seven siblings show us – in an uncensored, fly-on-the-wall style – how real events are experienced and interpreted with great imagination by the children.
We all remember how in the 1970s Rumania had a uniquely cordial relationship with the West. Ceasescu‘s first years of authority were good for the country and people believed he was a bright ruler. He promoted closer relations with the People’s Republic of China and with the West, as well as industrial and agricultural development. When he boycotted the Soviet Union’s 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, he won international support. When he began to impose his version of the ideal Communist society on the Romanians the citizens were put under pressure. Rapid industrialization in the manner of Stalin, pursuit of Puritanism concerning individual and family life, and systematization, which included destroying churches and housing the population in concrete high-rise buildings, made that more people had not choice where and how to live. His domestic rule was marked by frequently disastrous economic schemes and became increasingly repressive and corrupt.
Ceasescu’s actions were especially harsh in Bucharest, whose history was bulldozed to make way for Ceausescu’s ideal city. In keeping with his luxurious lifestyle, Ceausescu began constructing the largest building in the world, “The People’s Palace.”
All the while, life was crumbling for the average Romanian, many of whom had to survive without heat or electricity. In December, 1989, the Romanian people revolted, and killed both Ceausescu and his wife.
Rumania under Ceausescu is not merely isolated; it is regarded with almost universal hostility. Its leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, attended five summit meetings with several U.S. Presidents and obtained most favored nation status for his country. In the 1980s, however, that special relationship ended. Rumania lost its trade preferences and became a pariah to the West it has come to occupy a similar position in Eastern Europe. Rumania is unique among Warsaw Pact countries in resisting absolutely any kind of political reform.
Teodora Ana Mihai was born in Bucharest, Romania, in April 1981 under Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship. In 1989 she came to Belgium and was reunited with her parents, who had fled the year before.
In junior high, the opportunity arose to study in California, where her aunt’s family had emigrated. Teodora completed the last two years of high school at the French American International High School in San Francisco. Soon, inspired by her father’s previous passion for photography and the artistic environment of San Francisco she found what she wanted: to tell stories through images and sounds. It all started with film and video workshops geared toward teenagers, which led to a true passion for the seventh art.
Teodora Ana Mihai says:
My parents fled Romania in 1988 and were granted political asylum in Belgium. I stayed behind as a guarantee for the secret services that my mom and dad would return: it was the only way for them to flee the country. In the absence of prospects, parents sometimes take risks whose consequences are difficult to calculate in advance. In the end I was lucky: about a year later, after some diplomatic interventions, I was able to leave Romania too and was reunited with my parents. But that one-year absence during my childhood left a significant mark on me.
She remained in close contact with her country of birth, intrigued and preoccupied by its current fate. It’s this connection with Romania that made her realize that, in a way, history is repeating itself there. The difference is that children are no longer left behind for political reasons, but for economic ones. The impact on the child though, remains the same.
The economic migrants are occasionally given a voice by the media, but we hardly ever hear from the young ones left behind. That is why I wanted to tell their story – the story behind the story.
The cineast tries to tell the delicate story of children who are left behind by their parents and looks at the taboo in practically all cultures, as no one is proud of ending up in such circumstances.
It was not an easy task to find a family who were not only expressive enough, but who also agreed to be filmed in an open, uncensored way.
Luckily, after many months of searching and numerous interviews, she finally met the Halmacs, who agreed to share their everyday life with her and with the broader public.Their story particularly touched the young lady.
the Halmac kids literally claimed my empathy. Every single one of them is a real ‘character’, with a fascinating and well-defined personality that I just wanted to get to know better.
Despite her age Georgiana, who was about to turn 15 when they started filming, having taken over the parental responsibilities, was the new point of reference for the rest of the siblings. She did possess the realization that she — like the rest of her siblings — should have the right to a normal, more protected childhood.
That is what the cinematographer tried to make clear in the pictures that has been awarded the prize for Best International Documentary at the Hot Springs International Documentary Festival in Arkansas, USA. The film also screened in Australia at the Antenna Documentary Festival, where it was similarly honoured as Best International Documentary.
International praise has kept on coming for Waiting for August since it first made its appearance at the prestigious Hot Docs film festival in April. The film won the International Feature Award there, after which it travelled on to win awards in Karlovy Vary, at Kosovo’s Dokufest, and at the international film festivals of Budapest (Hungary), Bergen (Norway), Astra (Romania), Valdivia (Chile) and Reykjavik (Iceland). Waiting for August has also had theatrical runs in New York and Los Angeles.
The Antenna Documentary Festival (14-19 October) in Sydney, Australia, screens the best documentaries from around the world. This year, its line-up included 35 feature-length documentaries from over 20 countries, with Waiting for August grabbing the fest’s SBS Award for Best International Documentary.
At the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (10-19 October) in Arkansas, Mihai’s portrait of a Romanian teenager in charge of her six siblings also touched a nerve, receiving the award for Best International Documentary.
Bruno Vanobbergen presented his office’s annual report, coincidentally on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Today too many children and young people today collide on social exclusion. Of all the issues raised in the some 1,000 complaints made to the Flemish children’s rights commissioner in the last year, the most repeated concerns the lack of time given to children, Bruno Vanobbergen told the Flemish Parliament.
Too many children and young people experience not enough attention from their parents. Lots of parents are much more busy by earning money than with parenting. According to the founding decree of the Flemish children’s rights commission it is their mission to address this. The children’s commissioner should acts as the interpreter of the rights, interests and needs of the child.
The annual report of the commissioner brings together many stories of children and young people, their parents or other relatives and a host of committed professionals.
On all these questions, they give a unique answer. That is their daily mission.
We inform and advise. We mediate. Whether we conduct a complaints investigation resulting in a number of recommendations.
Children need to be given time to be heard, Vanobbergen said, whether by parents, teachers or other adults who have control over their lives.
“It seems to me logical that we should integrate their perspective into our discussions about important social themes,”
When we look at the situation of the mothers and fathers, they have nearly no choice to stay at home to take care of the kids. they simply cannot afford to have one parent staying at home to take care of the children. the young parents are obliged to go out working both, to be able to pay rent and utilities. Government does try to provide possibilities for companies to give their employees extra time for the children, but companies are not willing enough to provide means for their workforce, nor are willing to make the wages better, complaining that in Belgium they are already of the highest in Europe (because of the taxes).
“Think, for example, about flexible working hours or time credits. Until now, we’ve only heard the point of view of adults, of employers.”
For many people it may look logical that we should integrate the children’s their perspective into our discussions about important social themes, but not enough attention or value is given to the position of the not commercially valuable child.
for the commercial market those children are only good to sell their products and to blind them with all sorts of unnecessary gadgets. to get parents having valuable quality time with their children is not of enough interest. More time devoted to the child would help in working towards a solution: in the case of asylum seekers, where children and young people are often not asked for their point of view; in cases of school discipline, where the frequent use of “time-outs” could be precisely the opposite of what is best for the child.
Those in child-care and the educational system, teachers, child carers, have no say in bringing up the children. They are not allowed to educate on social and ethic matter. That is why we see so many of the last generations being spoiled and not having any ethic education, because often their parents had no time spend for that. The report recognises that the adults in such situations often simply do not have the time to give.
“One of the explanations for that is the growth of ‘management logic’ in care and in education,”
“Teachers and caregivers are under pressure to reach targets within very limited time-spans.”
Not everything seems to be bad. Some initiatives have already been taken in the right direction, including the Family Tribunal, which came into operation in September this year and offers children over the age of 12 a voice in family matters such as divorce. Much too long the children had not say and much too often the father was put in the corner, left out to have the least family time with his kids.
The Commissariat-General for Refugees and Stateless Persons, meanwhile, has been carrying out an experimental project looking at how children’s voices can he heard during asylum procedures.
“We are happy with these initiatives,”
said the commissioner,
“but we would ask the government to invest even more, so important is the voice of children and young people”.
It is time we get to respect those little voices much more and listen to what is on their heart and mind.
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- Son of Romanian ex-dissident ends hunger strike (azfamily.com)
The son of an ex-dissident who was killed in jail during Romania’s communist era has ended a hunger strike after 17 days.
Andrei Ursu says he called it off Thursday afternoon after prosecutors told him they would reopen an investigation into the death of Gheorghe Ursu, who was killed in prison in 1985 on the orders of the former Securitate secret police.
- Romania to seek EU-IMF permission to boost defence budget (spacewar.com)
Romania will seek permission from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union to increase its defence budget next year in view of the separatist rebellion in neighbouring Ukraine, the finance minister said Monday.
“It is very important to step up military spending, and one of the items of discussion with the IMF and the EU will concern an extension by 0.3 perent of gross domestic product for the army,” Ioana Petrescu told reporters on the eve of a visit by the lenders to Bucharest.
“We will try to get the 0.3 percent added to the deficit” of 1.4 percent of GDP that Bucharest has committed to for 2015, she added.
Petrescu said the hike was needed “in view of the situation in Ukraine, which entails more spending, and Romania’s commitments to NATO”, notably to host a regional command centre for the alliance.