Amidst the highest prevalence of HIV in the world and the lowest life expectancy, three grandmothers in Swaziland, a small, landlocked country in southern Africa between South Africa and Mozambique, cope in this critical moment in time. The generation between the grandmothers and their grandchildren has been severely affected by HIV. Today the Hawk Takes One Chick moves delicately between the lives of the grandmothers, whose experiences highlight a rural community at the threshold of simultaneous collapse and reinvention.
Through the poignant perspective of these women, the film creates a portrait of a community by layering discrete moments in time. Presented without overt narrative structure or narration, the film’s drama emerges from the patient accumulation of steady details that, in sum, tell a greater story of family in a world dictated by AIDS.
The events in the film occur in a rural area within a 15-mile radius. In Swaziland, nearly 40% of people are HIV positive and life expectancy has dropped to 32-years. The lives of the three grandmothers have been consumed by addressing the needs of their community while at the same time retaining the threads of the fraying traditional life.
Through verité footage and recordings of intimate conversations, the gentle beauty of the rural Swaziland landscape and way of life are in stark contrast with the urgency of the grandmothers’ everyday lives: families living off World Food Program rations, a missing generation of productive young adults, children surviving without parents. These crises all combine and overwhelm what should be the grandmothers’ time to retire, relax and be taken care of by adult children.
What is life when sickness and death are an everyday experience? For these grandmothers, there is no choice but to steadfastly persevere and refuse to abandon their children. As more and more insight into the women’s lives is revealed, we are forced to ponder the question asked by granny Albertina: “What will happen when all the grannies are dead?”