No Justice in Death: Children of the Mountain Tells a Powerful Story of Hope and Acceptance
By Russell D. Christian, Esq.
(Las Vegas) The 2016 Las Vegas Film Festival came to a dramatic conclusion this past Sunday with screenings of two films each with their own powerful message: Children of the Mountain by Priscilla Anany and The Track by Brett Levner. (more on that impressive film in an upcoming post).
Children of the Mountain arrived in Las Vegas to much fanfare, with director Priscilla Anany having already won the “Best New Narrative Director” award at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. Filmed entirely on location in Ghana, Children of the Mountain tells the story of Essuman (Rukiyat Masud), a young girl from Ghana who gives birth to a baby with a cleft palate, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy. Complicating Essuman’s struggles to come to terms with her new way of life are the various theories (and accusations) she hears from others regarding the reason for her son’s disability. Friends, family, and members of the medical community all offer their unsolicited opinions, and despite their range of differences (from the clinical to the supernatural) they all share one common element-they place the blame squarely on Essuman. As a result, a distraught Essuman seeks an equally disparate range of perceived treatments and folk medicine cures in attempt to heal her son and purge her own feelings of guilt. Eventually she learns about a group called the Graft Foundation (a real group, for more information go to http://graftfoundation.org/) which provides free surgeries to repair cleft palates, and while she is waiting for this surgery she returns to her home village to spend time with her mother and face some difficult decisions regarding her future.
In the Q & A session after the film, Anany cited a poem written by her friend Portia Essuman (the main character’s eponym) as an influence on the writing and development of the film. Portia also gave birth to a child with Down Syndrome and similarly struggled with accusations and self-blame as to the reasons for her child’s illness. Anany also described her experiences growing up in Ghana hearing various stories of women being shamed for their perceived faults in creating unhealthy children, and drew on all of these personal experiences when creating this highly original and emotionally charged screenplay. Anany thanked the Graft Foundation who helped her coordinate with the parents of a child with a cleft palate to star in the film (the Graft Foundation has since performed a successful surgery on the child), and indeed while the film is not directly sponsored by or associated with the Graft Foundation it nevertheless raises awareness of this important issue by means of a visually stunning and emotionally moving narrative film. Overall I thought that Children of the Mountain was a very powerful film which shared a universal message of hope and acceptance for all children and the importance of allowing adversity to strengthen our spirit. This message was summed up best by a poem at the end of the film by Portia Essuman, which states:
“Fear of offense makes a woman swallow poison….do not swallow the poison, for there is no justice in death.”
There is no justice in death indeed, and Children of the Mountain celebrates the justice of life and all that comes with it, even when life does not happen the way we had envisioned it. I would highly recommend this original and moving film to all of my readers and I wish it all of the success it deserves.