ITVS Staffers Respond to Pushing the Elephant

ITVS staffers offer their take on the upcoming Independent Lens documentary.

Tuesday marked the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day and to honor the occasion, BTB presented a live chat with PBS NewsHour on Women’s Empowerment. The documentary Pushing the Elephant (airing March 29 on Independent Lens) was featured prominently in the discussion, with the filmmakers and subject, Rose Mapendo, participating in the chat. This month, ITVS staffers will offer up their very personal responses to the documentary about one Congolese refugee’s attempt to find forgiveness and start a new life. Today’s post comes from our Senior Publicity Manager, Voleine Amilcar.

One of the great things about working at ITVS is the exposure to a steady stream of great documentaries that have the power to move you. Every now and then a documentary comes along and strikes a personal chord. In the upcoming Independent Lens broadcast, Pushing the Elephant, I found a story that mirrored a definitive moment in my life.

Voleine Amilcar

I was most moved by the forced separation of Rose and her daughter Nangabire. Rose made the heart-wrenching decision to leave behind five-year-old Nangabire during the ethnic violence that engulfed the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rose managed to escape with nine of her 10 children and eventually resettled in Phoenix, Arizona — but she had to live with the biting reality that she had left one child behind.

In the early 1980s my parents emigrated from Haiti to California, fleeing the repression of the Duvalier dictatorship and in search of more favorable economic opportunities. They made a difficult decision to leave my sister and I behind in the care of extended family. I was barely a toddler and my sister was just a few years older. But they were propelled by the hope of a better future for us.

My family’s journey to America was far less harrowing than what Rose and her 10 children witnessed and survived. But watching the film I understood the unspoken words between Rose and Nangabire when they were reunited 10 years later. I experienced the same silent exchanges with my mother years later when we reunited in California as we struggled to make up for lost time.

I saw in Rose my mother’s strong resilience that enabled her to help my sister and I to look forward and move past those years she was absent from our lives.  And as I watched Nangabire struggle to adapt to life in America, I recalled my own awkward struggles of assimilation to life in a strange new land.

At the end of the film, what I saw reflected was a family that survived unspeakable horrors only to emerge triumphant, despite all that they had faced. Their story was a strong reminder for me to never forget the biggest sacrifice my parent’s made for the sake of our family’s future.


  • Rose Mapendo

    I thank God for what He has done to keep alive until I can this day. I am very happy that this movie made by Arts Engine is going to air this month allowing more people to see and know unspeakable struggles of a mother forced to separation with her daughter and a woman whose husband was tortured and executed leaving her to care for 9 children in a death camp without help and hope to survive. I hope people will visualize pain, hopelessness and helplessness of a loving mother to give up her daughter to be rape in order to save the life of her son and realize how my daughter Aimee is a true hero for her sacrifice for her brother and, later, her entire family. I am happy that this documentary speaks to Voleine’s background and will help all viewers to realize what is happening even today to countless individuals, families, and communities. To me, this documentary features my story and the story countless other vulnerable women who do not have the privilege I had to be rescued and resettled to the United States and to have Arts Engine decide to make this documentary that is becoming a powerful tool we are using to bring social justice and forgiveness. It comforts me in my determination of being a voice for those voiceless to raise the awareness of what keeps on happening and to call for action to end violence against women, families, and humanity. To me taking action is the responsibility of every human being, especially those living in a free world. I decided to take action and to start Mapendo New Horizons ( We want hopeless and discriminated (ethnic and gender-based discriminated) people to understand that there are new horizons we can focus and work on through FORGIVENESS, Love, RECONCILIATION, and PEACE through actions aimed to meet their urgent needs, solve their problems, and to empower them. Through what I experienced I understood what victims of violence and discrimination need not only to survive, but also to be empowered. We called this documentary Pushing the Elephant for a reason and a purpose because no one can push and elephant alone, which means no one can bring positive change alone. Please let come together, share ideas, and take actions to save and empower those who are going through untold horrific stories like me some years ago.
    There is nothing that can possibly explain my survival of 16 months in death camp without food, clean water, medical assistance during birth of twins on a concrete floor and in an unclean room I was sharing with 31 orphaned children, 4 women…OTHER THAM to be a witness and a voice to tell the world what is going on and to call for action. This is my life mission

    Rose Mapendo