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When Mother Comes Home for Christmas...

Director, Editing: Nilita Vachani
Photography: Vangelis Kalambakas
Music: Ross Daly
Sound: K. Nandha Kumar, Costas Poulantzas
Producers: Nilita Vachani, Vangelis Kalambakas
Production Company, Source: Film Sixteen
437-39 Acharnon, 11143 Athens, GREECE
Phone: 30-1-218-5535 / Fax: 30-1-218-5535
INDIA, GREECE, GERMANY / 1995 / Sinhala, English / Color / 16mm / 107 min

Nilita Vachani

Studied English literature at Delhi University and then took a Master's in Communications from the Annenberg School of Communications, University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Fine Arts in Filmmaking from the Art Institute of Chicago. From 1985 to 1987 she worked in New York as a documentary film editor. She was assistant director to Mira Nair on Salaam Bombay., and has directed, produced and edited three international award winning documentaries, Eyes of Stone (1990), Diamonds in a Vegetable Market (1992) and When Mother Comes Home for Christmas... (1995). She is now teaching a documentary film workshop at the University of Pennsylvania.


After eight years of absence, a Sri Lankan woman working in Greece returns home for Christmas. Her three children await her.

Her eldest son has made a rather comfortable life for himself with a bus acquired by means of money she sent home, but her eldest daughter marries in haste to escape her unpleasant life. The youngest boy, whose care is entrusted to a boarding school (also an orphanage), is clearly going through some problems.
This film thoughtfully tries to capture the details of one woman's daily chores. Seizing on insignificant gestures and expressions, it depicts her family and its relations; each detail laid finely upon the next to create a simple but concise story.
Within this narrative, the film deals with both the classic problem of working women coping with children demanding their care, and also the contemporary problem that what supports one woman's social advancement involves the sacrifice of another woman's labor. A whole range of other related problems are also addressed.

As the film progresses we come to detect a familiar problem and begin to feel an intimacy with Josephine, this woman from a distant and foreign country whose circumstances at first glance are so different from our own.
--Masuya Shoko

Director's Statement

On the stage of global economies, at no time are the effects of the laws of supply and demand more keenly felt as when the commodity is the human being.
In recent years, overwhelming numbers of women from poor nations like the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, and Mexico are saved from poverty at home by working as housemaids and nannies abroad.
This has created a situation rife with a complex irony. Women's liberation has taken the woman out of the house into the professional sphere. The more privileged amongst us can afford to hire a 'third world' woman to fill the lacuna at home: to care for the children and run the house. But who is there to take care of this woman's children? And what is the likely impact on a nation whose women migrate in droves selling their gender functions to the domestic spheres of others?
My film explores this paradox through the story of a single migrant worker. Josephine Perera, mother of three, has left her children behind in Sri Lanka to earn her living in Athens, Greece. She runs a rich, suburban household to perfection, taking tender care of two-year-old Isadora, whose mother lives and works in Paris.
Josephine has not seen her children in eight years, but she works hard, carefully saving the dollars that will guarantee their future and her own.
This year Josephine will go home for one month to visit her children. Will they find their mother in this woman whom they scarcely know? Will Josephine make a home for them in the single month she has?
In the process of making this film, I embarked on a journey parallel to the one that Josephine herself has been on for the last many years. A journey which because of the complex reality it engages raises more questions than it can answer.


Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival Organizing Committee