AUSTIN – One of the most personal films showing this year at SXSW is Sunshine. Karen Skloss’ self-portrait explores society’s evolving attitude toward single mothers as she digs into her part in that transformation. And it’s doubtful anyone is more qualified to make a film on the subject than Skloss.
In 1974, her mother, Mary, became pregnant at 19. She was ushered out of her home town of Victoria, Texas, and taken to a home in Austin for what they called “unwed mothers” in those days. While there, she gave birth to Karen, who was adopted out to a family that had been wanting a baby for 9 years.
Fast forward two decades, and Karen is now the one trying to work through an unplanned pregnancy. Things had changed significantly by the mid-90s. And even though she and the baby’s father had no intention of staying together, they figured out ways to make single parenting work.
Those two different approaches form the backbone of the movie as Karen interviews everyone from her birth mother and maternal grandfather to her adoptive parents and even her daughter, Jasmine. The family portrait that emerges is one of a non-traditional family that has found a way to make it work.
You can argue that a movie about two women making the decision to keep the baby is decidedly pro-life, yet Sunshine is never preachy on that subject. Instead, Skloss prefers to spend her time letting her audience know that true families are the ones that help each other out when times are tough.
Toward the end of the movie, Skloss shows a clip of Mr. Rogers talking about how many families have a mother and father but many others are comprised of a variety of people.
“And each one is fancy,” he tells his young viewers.
Members of those “fancy” families will find a lot to like in Sunshine.