“A documentary full of poetry.” - Nobel Prize-Winning poet Derek Walcott
"Beautiful Tree, Severed Roots is a much welcome revelation..." -Film Kenya
“There is a true majesty at work in this artistic effort. It is a love song to Africa as well as a faithful historic record of a time when the country was entering a modern progressive age. More than that, it is a reflection on her younger self ; serving as a mirror held up to the young people of today who are forging their identities in a world that is at once fragmented and hyper-connected. The film is a testament to the filmmaker’s gifts and to her ability to look into her own heart.” - Jackie Marks, Archivist
“Lovely, and moving. The photography is stirring, the writing poetic.” - Steve Brown, Board Member, WBAI
“Beautiful Tree, Severed Roots explores a complex theme with poetic compassion, and enlightens us about a loaded period of Kenyan history. We are staggered by the pluck & commitment of her parents, intrigued by the spiritual quest of her brother and sister…” - Gail Pellett, Filmmaker
“Multiple interwoven stories bring alive the complex relationships forged by "white African" filmmaker Kenny Mann's remarkable parents, Igor and Erika Mann. Wide-ranging and informative, "Beautiful Tree, Severed Roots" chronicles their escape from Nazi-infested Europe to assume new identities in Kenya during the tumultuous pre-Independence years. Told with a whimsical sense of humor and enlivened with original graphics, the film depicts the challenging, confusing, but never boring journeys of a highly colorful husband and wife team and the daughter who tries to make sense of their lives.” - Kathy Eldon, Founder and Chairman, Creative Visions Foundation
"Beautiful Tree, Severed Roots has a place in any African Studies and Cultural Studies program. I highly recommend the film for university classes as well as for a general audience. The film is beautifully shot and edited in a way that allows the viewer to engage with Mann's searching mind." - Kathleen Modrowski, Global College, Long Island University
"Beautiful Tree, Severed Roots is a splendid film, both deeply personal insofar as it uncovers Kenny Mann's own roots and complex family relations and insightfully historical in that it tells a complex narrative of the post-colonial experience. It is highly recommended for classroom use in a variety of fields in the humanities and social studies, particularly history, identity studies, migration and cultural psychology." - Stephen P. Marks, Director, Program on Human Rights in Development
Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard School of Public Health
Kenny Mann’s parents were Polish and Romanian secular Jews and Socialists who fled Europe to settle in Kenya as refugees in 1942. Born and raised there, Mann examines how their Jewish Socialist values enabled them to fully adapt to and profoundly identify with Africa and Africans. While British settlers claimed land and exploited African people, her parents fully engaged with Africa and the African identity, devoting their lives to fighting hunger, disease and poverty and becoming politically influential.
Set against the backdrop of their lives between the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s and Independence in 1963, the author examines her own identity as a “British” girl in an Eastern European family, as a white in an African country and as an anti-colonialist in a colony. She also explores her siblings’ identities as they search for meaning through African tribal and spiritual rituals, presenting a fascinating examination of Jewish identity and an exposition of Kenya’s colonial history from a unique point of view. Rare archival footage helps to integrate the family’s lives in Kenya with major political events, such as the assassinations of the young Tom Mboya and of Bruce McKenzie, both close family friends.
Shot in Kenya, Poland and Romania, the unconventional format of six chapters utilizes live and archival footage, a variety of visual elements, Mann’s parents’ voices culled from 30 years of cassette tape correspondence, music, and the filmmaker’s own narration.
Kenny Mann left Kenya for good in 1968 after graduating from the University of Nairobi. She returns frequently to maintain connections and to breath the spicy scent of African soil. After two years in England and twelve years in Hamburg, Germany, she moved to the United States, where she now lives in a small village on the East End of Long Island, NY. She has authored several books for the educational market, among them an award-winning six-part series titled African Kingdoms of the Past (Simon & Schuster/Dillon Press, 1992 - 1996), as well as The Ancient Hebrews and Isabel and Ferdinand in Fifteenth Century Spain (Benchmark Books, 1995 and 1996). She currently teaches Documentary Film - All Aspects of Production, Writing a Treatment, Marketing at the Digital Film Academy in Manhattan.
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