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Leave Nothing Behind at 2021 New Jersey International Film Festival

By Katie Scrivani

Leave Nothing Behind at 2021 New Jersey International Film Festival

Leave Nothing Behind plays Video on Demand at the 2021 New Jersey International Film Festival  on Sunday, June 6.

New Jersey native Stephanie Schwiederek breaks away from her usual medium of photography and brings us a powerful film about the meaning of home, growing up, and the relationship between a mother and daughter. This brief description of the documentary does not do it justice, as Schwiederek’s film dives deeply into each of these concepts and weaves them together in a way that introduces her audience to an autobiographical account of life as the daughter of an immigrant. We are given an up-close look at how culture and society greatly influenced her, and how conflicts, past traumas, and the notions of resignation shape the way children become adults. Leave Nothing Behind is Schwiederek’s story of both her life and the life of her mother, Anna.

Schwiederek explores her childhood; growing up in a motel on Route US-46 for thirteen years as the daughter of a Czechoslovakian immigrant, Anna. Through this private narrative, the audience is able to witness the collapse of the American dream and the social and political barriers that are placed before these immigrants that prevents growth and progression, leaving them behind. The film begins with the filmmakers’ mother, Anna, explaining the difficulties in obtaining a green card, explaining that she feels ‘not free’ because she does not have the opportunity to do small things such as buy herself cigarettes, and instead must rely on her husband for that. The audience watches her mother ruminate on the living conditions of the motel, saying that they were not that bad, and how she is a “damn good wife”, believing that “people are all beautiful”. The film goes on from there, exploring the life of both these women through stories, conversations, and actions. The audience is privy to personal conversations about Schwiedereks grandmother and her ailing health as well as a traumatizing issue that arose while living in the motel.  Schwiederek does not shy away from any fact that she believes that the audience should be aware of, and in that way she has created a vulnerable and moving film that is a work of art.

Schwiederek received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University and a Master of Fine Arts from the Art Institute of Chicago, and through this time has primarily studied photography. Schwiedereks photography background is evident throughout the film, and it seems as though the film in its entirety could be called a ‘metaphorical selfie’. The filmmaker uses many longshots and fixed images that capture the stillness and lack of progression that both she and her mother encounter. The shots in the beginning are juxtaposed at the end, creating a reverse timeline of where life is now from where it was in that motel. The filmmaker uses phone calls, conversations, and television clips to further encapsulate both her world and mother into a vessel that can be observed by an outsider. Schwiederek does not hide from the camera, and often her voice can be heard in conversation or she is seen in tender moments with her mother, such as when her mother is doing her hair. These emphasize the importance of acknowledging the personal story Schwiederek is telling us; we are merely spectators to this larger narrative about the social and political shortcomings of American society on immigrant women. This film is simply beautiful and will leave a lasting impression on any audience.

Here is the 2021 New Jersey International Film Festival Video Q+A with Leave Nothing Behind Director Stephanie Schwiederek, Festival Juror Katie Scrivani and Festival Director Al Nigrin

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A fascinating, glaring meditation on the past and the personal, Leave Nothing Behind will screen along with two shorts films Safe and The House on Carter Road Video On Demand on Sunday, June 6th at the 2021 New Jersey International Film Festival. 

Here is more info on this screening here:

Sunday, June 6 – Program 1

Safe - Josema Roig (Los Angeles, Caliornia) A family faces the childish fiction and the stark reality of hearing a bump in the night. 2020; 10 min.

The House on Carter Road - Shawn Gerrard (Toronto, Canada) At the height of redlining in 1968, a black couple and a white couple try to buy the same suburban house in New Jersey. 2020; 10 min.

Leave Nothing Behind – Stephanie Schwiederek (Somerville, New Jersey) An intimate and visceral portrait of the filmmaker’s immigrant mother, her journey to America from Czechoslovakia, and their shared experiences of precariousness living in a motel for thirteen years. Leave Nothing Behind is a documentary film that is deeper than a narrative of my mother’s life, the motel, and our relationship. The film exhibits the schisms and failures of the American dream, a hopeful vision that evidently turns into disappointment. It expresses the condemnation of women in systems, and patriarchal constructs that leave no room for us to progress and thrive. It illustrates the intimate and visceral relationship of mother and daughter within the family structure, while considering the notions of resignation and conflict. 
2021; 56 min

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originally published: 06/05/2021

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