First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on 16 May 2011
Amy Hall reviews Shane O’Sullivan’s Children of the Revolution. A film about complex mother/daughter relationships and the legacy of of two famous militants…
Families are complicated, and with every generation they get more so. This is the focus of Children of The Revolution, a documentary mainly described through the eyes the daughters of two notorious and controversial militants: Ulrike Meinhof and Fusako Shigenobu.
Neither daughter has followed in their mother’s footsteps but they have very different views on their upbringings and the things their mothers did to try and further their cause.
Both Ulrike Meinhof and Fusako Shigenobu became interested in violent direct action groups around 1968 when the smell of revolution was in the air across the globe. Although Meinhof, with her husband Klaus Röhl, had been heavily involved politics for a while, Shigenobu first became inspired into activism after joining a protest on student fees just before she started university.
Bettina Röhl, the daughter of Ulrike Meinhof, is now also a journalist with a small daughter and says that this has brought her further away from understanding her mother’s behaviour, especially towards her and her twin sister Regine. Mei Shigenobu, despite also being separated from her mother for long periods as she grew up in the Middle East, describes the loving community that surrounded her.
Perhaps what makes the film so interesting is that it contains a huge amount of archive material. As well as old photographs and news reel there are interviews with both of Bettina’s parents. It is easy to see the source of Bettina’s resentment for her mother and also how torn Meinhof felt as she says a female political activist is “disarmed by her children”, that her private life is set against her political life – the “source of women’s oppression”.
The film does contain a lot of violent images, and neither daughters are in support of this. While Bettina sees her mother as simply a terrorist, Mei seems to think that was the way activists needed to get noticed at the time – doing a big action and then releasing statement. But she adds that with the growth of the internet and independent media means that this is outdated. It is also unclear what actions Fusako Shigenobu was actually involved in.
This film is a fascinating look at the intricate weavings of the family and relationship between mothers and daughters, which even those not interested in the political landscape can relate to. But it is also a snapshot of the revolutionary spirit of the late 1960s and 1970s and how sometimes that was exploited to commit acts of extreme violence. It is clearly rooted in the time period it is set, although there are links made between the movements the two women were involved in, there are not so many with the present. But then, as Mei points out as she is filmed in her work as a television anchor: “From where you start history thinks look differently.”