Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

No need to wonder about the power of this movie December 14, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:01 AM
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IF EVER THERE’S a current movie everyone should see, it’s “Wonder.”

And for me to state that is noteworthy. “Wonder” is the first movie I’ve viewed in a theater since 2011. Yes, I really have not been inside a cinema since I last saw “The Help,” another memorable movie, six years ago. Most movies don’t interest me. Too much violence and genres that don’t appeal to me. I prefer movies with a message, with a purpose other than to simply entertain and with content that moves me.

“Wonder” fits those criteria.

Based on the New York Times bestselling book by R. J. Palacio, “Wonder” tells the story of 10-year-old Auggie Pullman, born with facial deformities and entering school for the first time after being homeschooled. As you would expect, Auggie faces incredible challenges, including bullying.

This film shows the real-life psychological harm of peer pressure and bullying to individuals and to families and then presents multiple ways people address it. And not always in good ways, just like in real life.

“Wonder” should be required viewing for every child, teen and adult. The book was assigned reading at my eighth grade great nephew’s Minnesota school, followed by a class field trip to see the movie. I applaud educators like those in Tristan’s school who realize the value in this film as a teaching tool and as an opportunity to open up conversations on differences, bullying, peer pressure, kindness, compassion and more.

As a survivor of junior high school bullying and even bullying as an adult, I understand this issue all too well. I refuse to tolerate bullying (and abuse) on any level. “Wonder” champions strength to rise and to overcome, making it one powerful movie.

 

FYI: If you haven’t read about the recent bullying of a young boy in a Tennessee school, then click here and read Keaton’s story. It breaks my heart. Decades ago, this was me. Crying. Suffering. Unable to stop the bullying. I was not bullied in the same ways as Keaton. But the bullying I experienced in junior high school hurt me. Deeply. Just like Keaton. This behavior needs to stop.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Nigerian civil war story untold until now & my emotional reaction January 31, 2017

"The Disturbances" is told in both book and film.

The Disturbances is told in both book and film.

I NEVER EXPECTED to find myself on the verge of crying while watching a documentary about a civil war in Nigeria in 1966. But I did on Sunday afternoon as I viewed The Disturbances at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Owatonna.

Produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics, the film tells the stories of missionaries and their families who, caught in the middle of a civil war, helped save the lives of Igbos, a tribe victimized by genocide. Thousands upon thousands of tribal natives died, many hacked to death by machetes.

The letter calling the Rev. Paul Griebel and his family to the mission field in Nigeria.

The letter calling the Rev. Paul Griebel and his family to the African mission field.

I’ll admit, I’m not the best with history and geography and, until recently, knew nothing of this strife in Nigeria 51 years ago. But then my pastor-friend, the Rev. Kirk Griebel of Redeemer, alerted me to the documentary. He was an “MK,” as missionary kids were tagged, living in Nigeria with his Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastor father, mother and five siblings at the height of the violence. He was only eight when his family arrived from Minnesota, thus recalls little.

But plenty of others do remember the civil war and spoke openly about it for the first time in The Disturbances, the film titled after the code name the missionaries gave to the conflict. Their experiences were horrible. And memorable. Even 50 years later, their words and faces reveal the trauma of witnessing such violence.

Artist Susan Griebel crafted this quilted art from fabric her mother-in-law, Margaret Griebel, had gotten in Africa.

Artist Susan Griebel crafted this quilted art from fabric her mother-in-law, Margaret Griebel, acquired in Africa.

The featured missionaries (including pastors, teachers and others from many denominations) lived in and around the city of Jos, a cultural melting pot and the epicenter of the violence. They were warned, “Tomorrow there will be trouble.” The next day the phone rang followed by a three-word declaration: “It has started.”

A beautiful carving from Africa, among those the Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel brought back to the U.S. from Africa.

A beautiful carving from Africa, among those the Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel brought back to the U.S. from Africa.

And so the stories emerged of Igbos hiding in fields and in rafters of the church sanctuary and in a store room. Stories of Igbos escaping with the help of missionaries. Stories of missionaries hiding a body in elephant grass. Stories of murdered Igbos picked up by trash trucks and buried in mass graves. Stories of the teen children of missionaries tending the wounded inside a police compound. Stories of missionaries lighting a runway with the headlights of their cars during an evacuation effort.

As I listened, I felt my grief rising, heightened perhaps by the unsettling current events in our own country regarding refugees. I wonder what stories they might tell, what violence many have fled/desire to flee for safety in America.

Two stories in particular imprinted upon me from The Disturbances. A victim of the attacks asked a young woman tending him whether she would be his daughter. His entire family had been slaughtered. She agreed, reciting Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd…) and The Lord’s Prayer to the dying man. The woman, 50 years later, still remembers his final words. “I’m going home, my daughter.”

Missionary children at ELM House (Evangelical Lutheran Mission House) in Nigeria. Missionary children lived in the hostel so they could attend boarding school in Jos, Nigeria. The Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel served as houseparents. Three of their children, including Kirk, are pictured in this group photo.

Missionary children at ELM House (Evangelical Lutheran Mission House) in Nigeria with teacher Carl Eisman in the back row. Missionary children lived in the hostel so they could attend boarding school in Jos. The Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel served as houseparents. Three of their children, including Kirk, are pictured in this group photo. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Kirk Griebel.

And then there’s the story shared by Carl Eisman, a Lutheran teacher at Hillcrest School (a boarding school in Jos) and friend/co-worker of the Rev. Paul Griebel. After evacuating children from a hostel, the two men remained hidden there with tribal members. As an angry mob approached ELM House, Eisman hid in the shadows with a hunting knife. And, as he recounted, Rev. Griebel sat at a nearby table reading Scripture and praying. Eventually, the mob dispersed and the men emerged to find a body, one they temporarily hid in elephant grass.

My friend, the Rev. Kirk Griebel, doesn’t recall his father (or mother; both now deceased) ever talking about the violence they witnessed. He remembers only an angry mob and waiting outside a fenced police compound where the injured and dying were taken.

This close-up of Susan Griebel's Nigerian-themed art shows the dove she incorporated as

This close-up of Susan Griebel’s Nigerian-themed art shows the dove she incorporated as representing the Holy Spirit. In the film, one interviewee said the missionaries had only one resource–that of prayer.

The film explains why the missionaries didn’t speak openly about the violence, even to family and church staff back home. They felt caught without resources in the middle of a civil war. As foreigners, they thought it best to lie low. They desired, too, to protect the children, to normalize their lives. And so they remained mostly silent. Until now and the documenting of their experiences in The Disturbances.

Given the time period and their foreigner status, I understand the guarded position. Missionaries and Nigerian pastors met, though, for two days in October 1966 to discuss “the disturbances” privately. I am thankful that these long-ago missionaries and their family members have now chosen to speak publicly about their experiences. For it is through the telling of personal stories that we learn and begin to understand suffering, courage, compassion and faith in times of violence. And for those who witnessed such atrocities, talking begins the process of healing.

FYI: Upcoming screenings of The Disturbances are scheduled in Missouri and Alabama. Click here for details. The Rev. Kirk Griebel will present the film this Wednesday, February 1, at 6 p.m. at King of Kings Lutheran Church, 1701 NE 96th St. in Kansas City, Missouri.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Love Story” revisited April 30, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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I now own a VHS copy of Love Story, purchased from the discard shelf at my local library.

I now own a VHS copy of Love Story, purchased from the discard shelf at my local library.

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

FORTY-FOUR YEARS AGO, with the release of the film Love Story, those words quickly became a part of pop culture. They rolled off the lips of adolescents like me, a then high school freshman, who could fall easily, blissfully in love with the latest movie star featured in Tiger Beat magazine.

Now, four-plus decades later, I don’t quite believe the “love means” phrase spoken twice in the award-winning Paramount Pictures flick starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw. Love does mean asking for forgiveness when you’ve wronged a loved one.

Despite that change in perspective, I still rank Love Story by writer Erich Segal as one of my all-time favorite movies. The plot, on the surface, seems hopelessly simple: Wealthy Harvard student Oliver Barrett IV falls in love with Jennifer Cavelleri, a Radcliffe student from a working-class family. Oliver’s father disapproves of Jenny and a rift develops between father and son. Eventually, Jenny dies of leukemia.

As a dreamy-eyed teen, I failed to see beyond the surface plot. But there’s so much more depth to this film than a romantic story that ends tragically. It just took decades, and numerous times viewing this movie, to figure that out. I had to get past the relationship between Oliver and Jenny, past my sadness over Jenny’s death, to understand.

So the last time I watched Love Story, just weeks ago, I really listened to the dialogue.

“I never see his face,” Oliver says of his father.

“Does he wear a mask?” Jenny asks.

“In a way,” Oliver replies.

That brief exchange speaks volumes to the stiff and formal relationship between Oliver and his father. The elder Barrett expects much of his son. But he does not expect him to marry below his social class.

“I mean she’s not some crazy hippie,” Oliver says of Jenny. I laugh when I hear that now. “Hippie” sounds so dated. But in 1970, when Love Story hit the big screen, rebellious, anti-establishment, free-loving, independent-thinking young people were, indeed, pegged as hippies.

“If you marry her now, I’ll not give you the time of day,” Oliver Barrett III tells his son.

So the line is drawn in the sand. Oliver chooses love over money and marries Jenny, even says in his wedding vows, “I give you my love, more precious than money.”

At this point in the movie, I nearly stand up and cheer, if not for my sadness over the broken relationship between father and son. Life is too short to sever ties with loved ones over differing opinions and expectations. Life is too short to choose money over love.

Surprisingly, I have not wept this time while watching Love Story. I wonder why. Perhaps it is because my approach to the film has been more analytical than emotional. I am also seeing, for the first time, two love stories (or lack thereof)—one between a man and a woman and the other between a father and son.

And I have been caught up in noticing the details—the rotary dial phone, the over-sized dark eyeglasses, the mini-skirts—that denote this as a 1970 film. I am taking in the beautiful winter scenery; the instrumental theme music, the lyrics “How do I begin to tell the story of my love,” replaying in my mind; and the one word in the film, “preppie,” that still irritates me after four decades.

I am regretting, too, that I no longer have the black and white poster of Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw that once hung above my bed, in the lime green room with the candy stripe carpeting.

CLICK HERE TO READ how Love Story connects to a shop in Neenah, Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My opinion of Fargo, the film not the city, & a television series October 2, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:02 AM
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SO THEN, THERE, I watched that there Fargo movie just like I promised ya I would, albeit that promise was made, and this review written, months ago. Ya betcha.

But timing is everything. This past week the Academy Award winning writers of Fargo, native Minnesotans Joel and Ethan Coen, announced plans to executive produce an hour-long series for FX television loosely-based on Fargo. Perfect. Time to pull this review out of my draft box, update and publish it.

Since I don’t get FX, relying instead on a roof antenna to deliver several channels of programming to the single 1990s television in our house, I doubt I will ever view the new Fargo series. I have no idea what writer Noah Hawley, or the Coens, have planned for the small screen adaptation.

But, if the team can produce a show similar to the 1990s television series Northern Exposure, set in Alaska, I’d consider it a success. Honestly, I loved that geographic-centric show with strong local characters and could see the same premise working for Fargo.

That update given, let’s return to my opinion of the original Fargo film. To get you back on track, I’ll repeat the intro to this post:

So, then, there, I watched that there Fargo movie just like I promised ya I would, albeit that promise was made, and this review written, months ago. Ya betcha.

Honestly, people, I cannot write like I’m some northwoods hick. This is not how I talk either. Nor is this how Minnesotans or North Dakotans speak, although occasionally a “ja/ya” or “you bet” may slip into our conversations.

After watching the Coen brothers’ 1996 award-winning film for the second time, because I’ve visited the city of Fargo thrice already this year with the son now attending North Dakota State University, my negative opinion of the language in the movie has broadened. Now not only do I dislike the inaccurate accents and word usage, but I don’t like the bad language either. I apparently had forgotten about all the crude language written into the script.

Apparently I had also forgotten that seven—and I think I got that count right—characters are murdered. That’s a lot of bloodshed.

So what do I consider the film’s notable accuracies in depicting Minnesota?

The Coen brothers, who are native Minnesotans, got it right with the snowy highway scene, the scraping ice from the windshield, the buffet and the eggs for breakfast, the car needing a jump start and this weather phrase: “Gotta front comin’ in.”

But here’s what I really appreciate in Fargo: One of the main characters is a strong woman, Brainerd (Minnesota) Police Chief Marge Gunderson. She is gutsy and determined and she is married to an artist. That the Coens would write that key part for a woman impresses me, because, even in 2012, I am quite certain the number of women who head up police departments in Minnesota and North Dakota is relatively small.

I also like this line by Gunderson, spoken at the end of the movie as she ponders the loss of life, all because of money: “There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that?”

That statement is enough to redeem the movie for me.

But I’m still wondering why this film was titled Fargo. Sure, the opening scene takes place in Fargo. But that’s it. From there on in, it’s set in Minnesota. I suppose Brainerd doesn’t have the same ringing appeal or instant identity as Fargo.

And then I’m a bit confused by the discrepancies between the opening—which states that the events depicted in the film took place in Minnesota in 1987—and the afterward, in which viewers are told the film is based on incidents but not a true story. Which is it?

IF YOU’VE SEEN the movie Fargo, what’s your opinion of it?  Do you think it accurately depicts Minnesota and/or Minnesotans? Would you have chosen a different name for the film?

What do you think of plans for a television spin-off of Fargo? What type of content would you like to see in that proposed series? Would you watch it?

CLICK HERE to read a previous post I wrote about a woodchipper and movie memorabilia from the Fargo film on exhibit at the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Five stars for “The Help” August 31, 2011

ABOUT ONCE EVERY two years, I see a movie in a theater. Maybe three times a year, I’ll rent a movie from a video store. Occasionally I’ll watch one on television.

I tell you this because I’m no movie expert, critic or star-struck Hollywood fan. A movie needs to hold promise as an excellent film before I’ll spend a dime, or my time, watching it.

“Sweet Land,” based on the book by Bemidji writer Will Weaver, and the classic 1970s “Love Story” are among my all-time favorite movies.

Now you can add “The Help,” based on the #1 New York Times bestseller by Kathryn Stockett, to that list.

I have yet to read the book. In fact, I hadn’t heard of Stockett’s novel until several days ago. Yes, I sometimes live with my head buried in the sand.

The movie version of the book might help more than a few viewers pull their heads from the sand. In a nutshell, “The Help” tells the story of black women working as maids in upper class Southern white households during the 1960s.

As a native Minnesotan who has never even traveled into the deep South, my impressions of Southern history are based mostly on books, stories, photos and films. Whether “The Help” gets it right, I’m uncertain. But, sadly, I expect what I viewed on the big screen depicts historical reality.

I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, so I’ll simplify the storyline: “The Help” focuses on one young woman’s efforts to reveal the stories of the maids who serve those rich, white Southern women in Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter, an aspiring writer, does that by interviewing the black women—first, Aibileen, and next, Minny—and then writing a book.

The writer angle, certainly, is a familiar one to me given I’ve been a writer for decades. But the whole “hiring of help in the household” is mostly foreign, except for the time during my high school years when I cleaned house every Saturday for a family in my hometown of Vesta. I was well-treated, well-paid for then, and simply happy to have a job—even if I had to scrub the toilet, wax the linoleum and wipe the bottoms of the legs on the kitchen chairs, all while the teenaged son slept upstairs.

My experience as a maid/cleaning girl can’t compare, not by any stretch, to that of the black women portrayed in “The Help.” They are treated more like slaves, as second-class citizens, as human beings without rights.

Especially troubling for me are the scenes involving bathroom usage—blacks prohibited from using the same bathrooms as whites.

I cried when one of the main characters, the maid Aibileen, spoke of her son’s death and how the white women continued playing bridge like nothing had happened.

Aibileen also repeats, through the course of the movie, this line which stands out for me among all the others: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

After the movie, which is a lengthy 2 ¼ hours, my husband and I and others in the theater sat through the credits. Typically we would leave as soon as the movie ended. But “The Help” calls for sitting in quiet contemplation in a darkened theater, pondering the story and hoping, hoping, that life for blacks in the South today does not at all resemble life there in the 1960s.

HAVE YOU SEEN “The Help” or read the book? If you have, please share your thoughts. I’d like to hear your opinion, positive or negative, on the movie and/or book.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling